Sunday, November 17, 2013

Alternative PF - An NSA Topic Critique

The Kritik of Domestic Surveillance

My Public forum debaters are an interesting group.  They devise some clever ideas and each team has taken its own unique approach to the NSA domestic surveillance topic and over the last two weeks they have been refurbishing some contentions and expanding their coverage of the topic.  Over the weeks, some of the them have been expressing an interest in kritiks in Public Forum.  Now I am sure the interest does not arise from the need to deal with them in rounds, since kritiks do not exist in PF.  They are probably motivated by a desire to win more rounds and see kritiks as a possible avenue to chalk-up "W"s.  Still, I confess, the idea intrigues me and I find myself wondering what the PF debate community in our area could bear in a region that witnessed the near-death experience of Policy Debate. (Thankfully Policy is alive and well for the time being.)

Fair Ground

In PF it is an explicit violation of the rules to debate the resolution itself. In other words, one cannot fashion apriori arguments which declare the language of the resolution as being detrimental to the purposes of debate and before we can debate the issues, we must resolve the harms which are inherent in the language of the resolution. On the other hand, critiquing the language or mindset of the opponents and perhaps society in general is fair ground in Public Forum debate if it is properly setup and run.  Generally speaking, the NSA topic and the December immigration topic each seem open to certain kinds of critiques which attack the way we think about these topics and so the harms we see in the real-world find their origins in our discourse and attitudes.

An Exercise in Futility?

On a whim I decided to do some research and look at literature that could be used to frame-up a sort of critique of the NSA resolution. It should be no surprise the subject of national security which drives NSA domestic surveillance finds support in the post-9/11 hysteria which essentially separated the world into two classes; those that stand with the forces or democracy and freedom and those that seek to destroy it.  There was no middle ground.  It should also be no surprise there is a wealth of scholarship which has studied the impacts of the security dichotomy on all facets of human life in the 21st century.  So it is with great caution and trepidation I present my (pseudo) kritik of surveillance.

First, a few words about how this can be used.  The kritik would run on the Con and works best from the second speaker position.  It is not a true kritik as commonly used in Policy Debate.  It is not considered apriori but in a sense, the framework of the entire debate takes place within the context of the kritik and thus the Pro case serves to illustrate the basis of the kritik.  To work properly the kritik must explain the basis of the kritik, present harms and disadvantages and it should include an alternative or other form of solvency to escape from the attitudes or mindset which sustain the harms.  I am not going to write a case and I am not even sure it can be properly set up in a four minute constructive, but I will explain the idea and give you a bunch of cards which will need to be heavily cut.  Then I will await your feedback.

The Politics of Fear Framework

The NSA domestic surveillance program is predicated on the need for security and it is the duty of government to provide security in times of danger. If the threat, whether real or imagined, persists, the government maintains a position of power by enlisting everyone as soldiers.  This is explained by Lawson & Gehl (2011):
Security-as-biopower works at all levels of society and results in a state of conflict that suffuses all of society, that is “indeterminate, both spatially and temporally,” and which allows for the possibility that “all of humanity can in principle be united against an abstract concept or practice such as terrorism” (Hardt & Negri 2004, 14-15, 19). As war invades the normal functioning of everyday life, even mundane activities like washing one’s hands or having up-to-date antivirus on one’s computer become acts of “national security.” In short, when war permeates all of society, which must be secured in its entirely on every possible front, then everyone is a potential “warrior.”

The discourse of the media serves to define the language which will be used to erect a global dichotomy around fear which justifies new security measures.

Epkins (2011) states:
Terrorism is not new to journalism. Well, at least outside of America. American mass media followed the “war on terrorism” so closely that this group is itself credited (or blamed) for a “contribution to major changes in social definitions and meanings of….’9/11’ and ‘terrorism’” in America (Altheide, 2004, p. 304). Even with decades of experience covering terrorism, much of post-9/11 international literature faults even global journalists for conveying an “over-identification” with America -- writers who “merged with Americans in a cultural geography of attachment” using words such as “we” and “us” (Sreberny, 2002, p. 223). The attacks of 9/11 were defined by American news media as an attack not only on American culture, but on civilization itself (Altheide, 2004).

The hunger for information allows the government to set the media agenda and erect the "War ot Terror" frame.

Epkins continues:
Furthermore, while there is evidence that the government may initially set the media agenda, over time the public is also conditioned to understand the historic discourse of a topic, for example terrorism, within a certain framework that is reflected by public opinion (Sadaba & La Porte, 2006). Therefore, knowing this public opinion, both the government and the media appeal to the audience in these well-traveled frames. Scholarship also supports prevalence of this kind of rhetoric utilization in countries with long histories of terrorism (Sadaba & La Porte, 2006, p.86). The “War on Terror” frame, for example, has become the crux of both reporting and understanding homeland security issues in America (Norris et al., 2003, p. 4). 

The "us and them" mindset erects a politics of fear.

Crampton 2007:
The first step in activating a politics of fear is to create and constantly reproduce a whole array of divisions between "us" and "them"; for example, normals verses abnormals, insiders verses outsiders. Those who promote these divisions, whether governments or local actors, wish to establish certain kinds of power-knowledge relations with the "others" in question. Foucault called these "dividing practices": "The subject is either divided inside himself or divided from others. This process objectivizes him. Examples are the mad and the sane, the sick and the healthy, the criminals and the 'good boys' " (Foucault 1983, 208).

Through the politics of fear, the government justifies expansion of its security apparatus.

Cole 2008:
But no one really claims that emergency policies are the result of the kind of adrenaline-charged panic that seeing a tiger in the jungle induces. The concern is rather a more nuanced one about the dynamics and politics of collective fear over a much longer period of time—more often measured in years rather than in seconds. As history demonstrates, fear tends to lead the populace to seek reassurance from the authorities, and as a result there is always a risk that authorities will exploit fear to their advantage. One need only recall that President Bush’s approval rating, quite unimpressive on September 10, 2001, shot up to over 80 percent almost immediately thereafter. The majority is willing to tolerate much more concentrated executive power, for example, during wartime than during peacetime. Some of this toleration of concentrated power makes sense, to be sure, but if it is driven by irrational fears, there may be an inclination to vest too much power in the executive’s hands during emergencies—and a tendency on the executive’s part to stoke the fires of fear to keep his authority unquestioned. Fear often causes us to make demonstrably irrational decisions even when we have plenty of time to think. Social scientists have found that a variety of influences associated with fear undermine our ability to make rational judgments. One such effect, the “availability heuristic,” leads people to overestimate risks associated with vivid, immediate images and to discount more gradual, long-term, or abstract risks.

The common discourse creates an all-encompassing state of perpetual war.

Graham 2010:
Fundamental to the new military urbanism is the paradigmatic shift that renders cities' communal and private spaces, as well as their infrastructure - along with their civilian populations - a source of targets and threats. This is manifest in the widespread use of war as the dominant metaphor in describing the perpetual and boundless condition of urban societies - at war against drugs, against crime, against terror, against insecurity itself. This development incorporates the stealthy militarization of a wide range of policy debates, urban landscapes, and circuits of urban infrastructure, as well as whole realms of popular and urban culture. It leads to the creeping and insidious diffusion of militarized debates about 'security' in every walk of life. Together, once again, these work to bring essentially military ideas of the prosecution of, and preparation for, war into the heart of ordinary, day-to-day city life.

Harms emerge as people are digitally divided into groups of threat risks.

Crampton 2007:
Once data have been collected through surveillance, they have to be rationally assessed. Today this is carried out through the model of risk (Beck 1992). The model comprises several elements. First the divisions previously established are used to sort data into categories. Second, each category has an associated degree of risk. Third, all members of that group are assumed to pose the same degree of risk. If you belong to a high-risk group then you are also a high risk, whatever your individual qualities may be (Foucault [1978] 2000). This helps us understand why, for example, Yusuf Islam can be deported-the reason was not anything specific about him as an individual but his position in a profile deemed high risk. Using risk-or its cognates, threat and security-shifts the judicial process from one of prosecuting offenders after the crime (a question of individuals) to anticipating and preempting actions by those within high-risk groups (a question of populations). Shifting from individuals to populations, it is argued, makes it easier and more efficient for law enforcement to identify wrongdoers.

The integration of NSA, international and local police databases have created data "fusion centers" throughout the US which are often abused.

Monahan (2009) describes the harms:
Notwithstanding the obstacles to data access enumerated in this article’s section on ineffectiveness, much of the information fusion centers analyze has been publicly available in the past but has not been as readily accessible (Flynn, 2005). One police-department database trainer asserts about fusioncenter activities: ‘If people knew what we were looking at, they’d throw a fit’ (cited in Kaplan, 2006). Therefore, beyond the number of people with access to private information about individuals, the emphasis on access to sensitive information raises additional privacy concerns. Citizens supplying biometric information to federal authorities may not approve of its dissemination internationally, particularly if it limits travel or is provided to nations with less stringent security requirements or to entities whose actions they do not support (Bowcott, 2004). As agencies are demonstrating, having too much access to information can result in too much power. As civil liberties attorney Richard Gutman warns: ‘You’ve got all this money and all this equipment – you’re going to find someone to use it on’ (cited in Kaplan, 2006).

We must begin now to alter our mindset.  We begin by realizing we cannot debate in a security versus civil rights framework.

Crampton 2007:
Is there then any way forward from the negative consequences of division, surveillance, and risk? I would argue that there is. First, we need to stop seeing the issue as one of security and surveillance versus privacy or rights. Arguing about this or that surveillance technique misses the point that, both historically and today, surveillance is a core component of the modern state; that is, surveillance and geosurveillance are characteristic of certain types of political rule based on a politics of fear (Foucault [1975] 1977; Lyon 1994; Graham and Wood 2003). Until we recognize the deep-seated basis for surveillance in the politics of fear, our analyses risk being politically irrelevant. A counterargument based on the right of privacy has not prevailed, and perhaps cannot prevail, against a politics of fear. Surveys consistently show that, if the issue is framed as security versus privacy, people will sacrifice the latter. This is a false choice, however, because one buys security not at the cost of privacy but at the cost of a climate of fear.

We must recognize how the politics of fear have served to erect an enormous security apparatus to protect us not from actual threats but from fear of threats and the state of perpetual war which floods our media, water-cooler conversations and debates.  NSA surveillance is a manifestation of the massive harms that fear induces.  We urge the judge to reject this destructive mindset. Therefore we urge a Con ballot.

Value in Research

So there is a relatively simple example of how to incorporate the general idea of a kritik into a PF case.  Of course, the cards need heavily cut and still may not fit a four minute speech time.  But even if it did, such an argument is unlikely to ever fly in a PF debate round.  There will be a traditional group of coaches and judges that will forbid it because it violates the very intent of Public Forum debate as a citizen (parent) friendly format.  In any case, it was fun researching this case and putting it together.  I did learn a lot about the politics of fear, biopolitics and biopower.  I am also surprised at the enormous amount of scholastic literature that directly relates to this topic that most Public Forum debaters will likely never explore.

Your comments are welcome.

Below are additional cards and the list of sources used in this research.

Additional Undeveloped Cards

The language of fear represses dissent.
Jackson 2004:
The discourse of fear is one of the central constructions of the war on terrorism. Its main result is a society living in a state of ‘ontological hysteria’—a nation constantly anticipating the next attack, just ‘waiting for terror’. The suffocating power of the counter-terrorism project derives in large part from its ability to project a reality of ubiquitous and impending danger. And yet, as I have demonstrated, the discursive construction of the catastrophic terrorist threat is inherently unstable and susceptible to counter-hegemonic resistance. If the terrorist threat is a social construction, there is no reason why it cannot be deconstructed. From an ethical perspective, there are compelling reasons for actively resisting and working to dismantle the discourse of threat and danger. In the first place, as a great many studies have shown, the social construction of the global terrorist threat has functioned to provide a discursive smokescreen for the pursuit of expansionist imperial policies, such as opening up new regions to American markets and influence, the expansion of a global military presence, the disciplining of potential rivals, and the strategic control of future oil supplies—among others. In effect, the terrorist threat presently fulfils the same ideological and discursive functions that the communist threat played during the cold war. Second, the discourse of threat and danger is cynically employed to de-legitimise domestic dissent and expanding state power through the reassertion of the national security state. Successive reports by Amnesty International have noted that this is occurring all over the world: the war on terror is being used to repress opponents in dozens of countries. In this regard, the politics of fear are proving highly damaging to democratic politics and the functioning of civil society. The corrosive effects of the discourse are plainly obvious: antiglobalisation protesters, academics, postmodernists, liberals, pro-choice activists, environmentalists and gay liberationists in America have been accused of being aligned with the evil of terrorism and of undermining the nation’s struggle against terrorism;70 arms trade protesters are arrested under anti-terrorism legislation in Britain; blacklists of ‘disloyal’ professors, university departments, journalists, writers and commentators are posted on the internet and smear campaigns are launched against them; anti-administration voices are kept away from speaking at public events or in the media; and political opponents of government policy are accused of being traitors. The overall effect of this process is the narrowing of the discursive space for political debate and the suppression of civil society. However, the most compelling reason for opposing the discourse of threat

Security and liberty is not a zero-sum game. It is possible to have both.
Cole 2008:
I will argue that Posner and Vermeule’s argument for deference to the executive is misguided for three reasons. First, their assumption that there is a necessary and “straightforward tradeoff between liberty and security” (p 12) is far too simplistic. Executives often sacrifice liberty without achieving an increase in security. Security may be advanced in a variety of ways without infringing on liberty. And even where there are tradeoffs between liberty and security, there are many complicating factors in the “balance” that make it anything but “straightforward.” Thus, there is no reason to assume that sacrificing liberty is necessary to further security or that such sacrifices are warranted simply because the executive chooses to make them.

Once erected the security apparatus has endless life and is difficult to remove.
Cole 2008:
The point is not so much that there is no going back once extraordinary emergency powers are adopted but that the road back is very often a long, slow, and grueling one; and in the meantime, many people’s rights may be unnecessarily infringed by emergency authorities that, even assuming they were once warranted, are no longer justified once the emergency has passed. The reason this is a common pattern should be obvious. To alter the status quo in Congress, one generally needs a catalyzing event, a leader to take the initiative, and significant political demand. A national emergency, particularly when it comes in the form of an attack, is the most powerful catalyst a community ever experiences. The executive is inevitably treated as a leader during such moments,56 and the public demands increased security. Moreover, legislation adopted in such periods, such as the Patriot Act, often contains no explicit limitation to the emergency that prompted it. The new status quo—for ordinary as well as emergency times—will then include whatever changes were adopted in the course of the emergency and not expressly limited to a specified emergency period.

The politics of fears helps drive urban militarization.
Graham 2010:
The crossover between the military and the civilian applications of advanced technology - between the surveillance and control of everyday life in Western cities and the prosecution of aggressive colonial and resource wars - is at the heart of a much broader set of trends that characterize the new military urbanism. Of course, the effects observed in the urban Western setting differ wildly from those seen in the war-zone. But, crucially, whatever the environment, these hitech acts of violence are predicated on a set of shared ideas.

The state secures itself by seeing everything and everyone as a potential risk.
Crampton 2007:
The question is not one of identifying which areas are at risk but of seeing everything at risk, to different degrees, as measured against a background of what is normal. Geosurveillance must be coextensive with that risk; that is, everywhere. Blanket geosurveillance is therefore a logical outcome of the state's representation of its residents as risk factors who need to be controlled, modified, and logged. When we see an instance of surveillance, whether it be by the government or in consumption, such as biometric identification cards and the millions of CCTVS in the United Kingdom (Rosen 200l), cell-phone tracking, RFIDS, biological chipping, warrantless tapping of telephone calls, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's DNA database (FBI 2001), we should see it in the context of surveillance-risk normalization.

The creation of fusion centers weaves a net of surveillance across the country
Monahan 2009:
Drawing upon these insights, this article explores one dimension of the privatization of national security: the formation of DHS ‘fusion centers’, which coordinate data-sharing among state and local police, intelligence agencies, and private companies. The stated goal of fusion centers is to ‘blend relevant law enforcement and intelligence information analysis and coordinate security measures to reduce threats in their communities’ (US Department of Homeland Security, 2006). Although there is evidence that some fusion centers existed before the formation of the DHS, they became formalized under the aegis of state-level DHS offices in direct response to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Put simply, after the attacks of 9/11, there was widespread consensus within the intelligence community that various agencies had not been able to work in concert to ‘connect the dots’ and prevent the attacks. Fusion centers are one response to this identified problem. According to a congressional report on the subject: ‘the DHS State, Local, and Regional Fusion Center Initiative is key to Federal information sharing efforts and must succeed in order for the Department to remain relevant in the blossoming State and local intelligence community’. As of 2009, there were 58 such centers across the USA funded by the DHS at a cost of $380 million dollars (US Department of Homeland Security, 2009). Because they enroll local police in their activities, it is estimated that there are 800,000 operatives involved with fusion centers (German & Stanley, 2008). Far from being restricted to the sharing of data among government agencies, fusion centers also facilitate cooperative efforts among government agencies and private industries, although the details of these relationships are shrouded in secrecy (Monahan, 2009b).

Human beings are being deconstructed into "data doubles".
Monahan 2009:
Given that fusion centers are entities that coordinate the sharing of disparate data across multiple networks with the goal of enabling the pre-emptive identification of risky individuals for law enforcement intervention, they effectively actualize what Kevin Haggerty & Richard Ericson (2000) refer to as the surveillant assemblage. The characteristics of surveillant assemblages are that they abstract individuals and practices from social contexts, translating them into ‘data’ that can be analyzed in discrete form, exchanged freely, and recombined to provide a seemingly objective representation – or ‘data double’ – of individuals (Haggerty & Ericson, 2000; Monahan & Wall, 2007). At least in theory, fusion centers thrive upon the production and exchange of data and the sorting of individuals based on their assigned risk. As we will show, however, fusion centers engender a politics that has the potential to also do much more than this.

Fusion centers often divert their mission to secondary purposes which violate their intent.
Monahan: 2009:
Mission creep is common to most surveillance systems and practices, so it is not surprising that it is present at fusion centers too. Because the development of new technological systems simultaneously introduces valences for new social practices, organizational configurations, and cultural identities, it can be understood as partially determining social spheres and values (Winner, 1977, 1986; Bush, 1997). In the domain of surveillance, systems of monitoring, tracking, identification, and analysis lend themselves to a panoply of ‘secondary’ uses that often extend beyond their primary intended or legally sanctioned functions (Marx, 1988; Lyon, 2001; Monahan, 2007). Thus, with fusion centers, mission creep occurs mainly when these centers use federal funds for activities unrelated, or tenuously related, to counter-terrorism. This has not gone unnoticed by the US federal government: a 2007 congressional report found that fusion centers were more often being used for all crimes and all-hazards functions than for counter-terrorism investigations (Hall, 2007). This criticism is often at odds with how fusion centers operate, though, because most are centered in state or municipal police headquarters and therefore might be expected to prioritize this local orientation (Milloy, 2008). The DHS also envisions fusion centers as being all-encompassing. For instance, Charles E. Allen, chief intelligence officer for the Department of Homeland Security, identified the centers’ purpose as ‘“all hazards, all crime, all threats,” targeted not just at terrorism but also at transnational gangs, immigrant smuggling and other threats’ (cited in Sheridan & Hsu, 2006).

The mission of security is pre-emptive not through police-work, or courts, but software protocols.
Monahan 2009:
The tying together of databases has allowed officers to more easily compile case files on persons who heretofore had not been viewed as terrorist threats (Kaplan, 2006), what some have identified as ‘fishing expeditions’. Such datamining can lead to targeting civilians when they have indeed done nothing wrong (O’Harrow & Nakashima, 2008), which is a practice that appears more likely in the light of recent spying by the US National Security Agency (Pincus, 2006). For instance, the Matrix system (Multi-State Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange program), which was discontinued in 2005, instantly created files on 120,000 people with ‘high terrorist factor scores’ (Kaplan, 2006; Lipowicz, 2006a) by combining information, as suggested by DHS guidelines, from databases containing motor-vehicle registrations and drivers’ license information, housing records, criminal records, and other public sources as well as private ones (Lipowicz, 2005). Other software is being developed to hypothesize potential next steps for people suspected of criminal and/or terrorist behavior (O’Harrow & Nakashima, 2008). This potential on the part of fusion centers for anticipating crimes before they occur represents one more component of the larger movement toward pre-emptive policing and risk management, which tends to ignore root causes of crime (Haggerty & Ericson, 2006; Simon, 2006; Garland, 2001).

Media and press framing influences public opinions.
Epkins 2011:
Overall, framing describes the process of content selection and exclusion, highlighting certain aspects over others to communicate a particular point of view. In many ways, a frame facilitates the nature of an argument -- specifically, communicating a certain bent, context or angle of an issue that, in itself, lends an interpretive meaning of the communication. As Jamieson and Waldman (2003, p. 1) put it, “journalists deliver the world to citizens in a comprehensible form.” Some scholars argue that framing “tells us how to interpret communication” (Bowen, 2008 p. 339). Perhaps the most utilized definition in scholarship, Entman denotes framing as selecting “some aspects of a perceived reality to make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation” (1993, p. 52). However, Reese more broadly defines framing (used as this study’s operational definition) as “organizing principles that are socially shared and persistent over time, that work symbolically to meaningfully structure the social world” (2001, p. 11).
However, the oncept, scope and criteria of “framing” are inconclusive and still hotly debated in scholarship (Reese, 2007).

Media framing represses alternative views.
Epkins 2011:
Generally, literature on media framing of terrorism-related matters has centered on hindsight judgment, via case studies, and argues parochial framing of the lead up to the Iraq war after 9/11 that “complied fully with U.S. administration policy and never acknowledged the appropriateness of an entirely, alternative frame” (Boyd-Barrett, 2004, p. 29). Moreover, scholars posit that this was planned and induced by the Bush Administration (Moeller, 2004, Norris et al., 2003). As Boyd-Barrett (2004) further argued, this was specifically accomplished handily through the White House ‘messages of the day’ which allowed for intra-government agreement (framing) as well as controlling the day’s media agenda.

Sources used:

Cyber-Surveillance in Everyday Life: An International Workshop * May 12-15, 2011 * University of Toronto
Convergence Security: Cyber-Surveillance and the Biopolitical Production of Security
Sean Lawson & Robert W. Gehl, Department of Communication, University of Utah University of Utah

The Emerging Politics of DHS Fusion Centers
Department of Human & Organizational Development,
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

Jeremy W Crampton, 2007
Geographical Review; Jul 2007; 97, 3; Research Library

Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism
Stephen Graham, 2010,%20Stephen%20-%20Cities%20Under%20Siege.%20The%20New%20Military%20Urbanism_0.pdf

Review of No Reason to Believe: Radical Skepticism, Emergency Power, and Constitutional Constraint
David Cole,2008

Heather Davis Epkins, Ph.D., 2011

The Politics of Threat and Danger: Writing the War on Terrorism
Richard Jackson
Paper Presented at the British International Studies Association (BISA) 29th Annual
Conference, University of Warwick, 20-22 December, 2004

Increasing Resilience in Surveillance Societies
Unversity of Edinburgh (UEdin), January 2013


  1. Isn't destroying two forms of debate in thirty years enough? All of what you wrote is gibberish intended to obscure the lack of a topical, logical argument. Your terminal impact is "until we recognize the deep-seated basis for surveillance in the politics of fear, our analyses risk being politically irrelevant." Okay, fine: we recognize there is a politics of fear. But until you make an a priori "vote for me because the resolution is bad" argument, the answer is just, "We're going to do the analysis rationally, without fear mongering, in this round and you're going to vote on that. Now let's look at some actual data, as opposed to critical studies professors passing off anecdotes as facts by using impenetrable jargon." Conversely, if you want to run the a priori, lobby NFL for a rule change. But when you do, be honest. Say that you want what LD has become on the national circuit, which is rich kids from two dozen private schools speaking a foreign language to 20 and 21 year olds, all to build up barriers to entry so smart poor kids and smart black kids can't win trophies by just debating straight up. I hope the difference between 2-3 and 3-2 is worth it.

    1. Are you telling me those kids are too poor or too black to be able to grasp a more broadened form of debate, one that doesn't simply view the world and the resolution in a vacuum? These kids are smart, just like you said, and I think you should give them a little more credit. "Straight up", just because you created rules that allow debaters to ignore the social and psychological implications of politics, doesn't mean that they are any less real. In fact, teaching our students to ignore how their actions, language, mindset, etc. affect society and future policy-making will only be crippling in the long run, when they venture out into the real world sans rules from the NFL.

  2. Kritiks fucking suck, if they come into pf, im going to congress


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