Saturday, May 17, 2014

LD 2014 NFL Nationals - National Security vs. Digital Privacy

Resolved: The United States ought to prioritize the pursuit of national security objectives above the digital privacy of its citizens


If you are reading this, there is real good chance you will be attending the National Forensics League National Speech and Debate Tournament in 2014.  This year, Lincoln-Douglas debaters will be debating the conflict between national security objectives and individual privacy.  A similar topic was debated in Public Forum in November 2013 following a summer of controversy as Edward Snowden, sought refuge in Russia. You will recall Edward Snowden was the National Security Administration contractor employee who exposed evidence of wide-spread NSA data-collection of private citizens phone-records.  Those allegations awakened people to the stark realities of life under the USA PATRIOT Act and sparked lots of debate over the right to privacy versus the need for national security in post-9/11 America.  You can read my analysis of the Public Forum topic starting here.

Since you are probably going to be competing in the national tournament, I assume you know what you are doing and so I will not spend much time dealing with novice-level issues.  I want to focus on the argumentation.  This topic is much better suited to Lincoln-Douglas than Public Forum in my opinion, because LD better tolerates an in-depth analysis of the philosophical implications of the advocacies. The core of Lincoln-Douglas debate is the so-called value framework and so we must not allow the judge(s) to lose sight of how important it is to maintain our values.


As usual, I will begin this analysis with a look at the definitions and interpretation of the resolution.  There are some things we can note about the wording which may or may not impact the advocacy.  However, first let's define the terms.

The United States
We know what the United States means and there will be no real need to define the terms.  The use of "The United States" limits the scope of the debate and establishes the United States government as the principle actor. Therefore, while we can look to the actions of other nations or entities, the core of this debate will center on the actions, decisions, and laws of the United State government with respect to the citizens of the U.S.

Merriam-Webster (verb)

  1. used to express obligation, advisability, natural expectation or logical consequence.

various sources:

  1. used to indicate duty or correctness, typically when criticizing some one's actions
  2. used to indicate a desirable or expected state
  3. used to give or ask advice

This is a word which should be very familiar to Lincoln-Douglas debaters.  There are several ways to spin the definition of ought depending on the sources used and intention of the case.  Some will claim ought means obligation others will claim it carries a meaning suggesting "strongly advised". Quite often, ought is defined in such a way to suggest there exists a moral imperative so you can expect some debaters will try to force the advocacy into a moral framework for both sides.

For an interesting and very detailed philosophical exploration of the word "ought" look at this essay entitled The Meaning of Ought by Ralph Wedgwood.

prioritizing (prioritize)
Merriam Webster:

  1. to organize (things) so that the most important thing is done or dealt with first

From Google:

  1. Designate or treat (something) as more important than other things
  2. Determine the order for dealing with (a series of items or tasks) according to their relative importance.

As I have stated many times in this forum, the word 'prioritize' can be very important.  On the one hand, we have the idea that prioritize means things should be done in sequence.  So, in this resolution we should first focus on national security and when we have achieved our security objectives we can delegate remaining activities to preserving digital privacy.  On the other hand, according to some definitions of prioritize, we do not act sequentially rather we can do both at the same time while placing greater importance on national security.  This means we pursue both ends but when the two come into conflict such that it forces us to choose, we must defer to national security since it is the greater priority.  Under the definition of prioritize which suggests a first, do this, then, do that definition, it is important to remember that a threshold or brightline must be provided which establishes the point at which it is time to shift the focus from one set of objectives to another.  Of course, we must consider in this case, the two ideals may be mutually exclusive.  In other words, we can have security or digital privacy but not both. Think of it this way.  We have security objectives and we have privacy concerns.  The places where the two overlap or come into conflict defines the debate. When the overlap widens to the point that every attempt to achieve our national security objectives infringes our digital privacy, the two are mutually exclusive.


  1. the act of pursuing
  2. an activity that one engages in as a vocation, profession, or avocation :  occupation


  1. to follow and try to catch or capture (someone or something) for usually a long distance or time
  2. to try to get or do (something) over a period of time
  3. to be involved in (an activity)

national security
"National security is a corporate term covering both national defense and foreign relations of the U.S. It refers to the protection of a nation from attack or other danger by holding adequate armed forces and guarding state secrets. The term national security encompasses within it economic security, monetary security, energy security, environmental security, military security, political security and security of energy and natural resources. Specifically, national security means a circumstance that exists as a result of a military or defense advantage over any foreign nation or group of nations, or a friendly foreign relations position, or a defense position capable of successfully protesting hostile or destructive action." (src:

I would like to bring to your attention, there are two key meanings to "national security" and the above definition reflects only one.  As seen above, national security is an ongoing action or specifically, as a noun, a policy which results in action aimed at achieving or maintaining a state of national security.  It is the state of national security which defines it as a condition rather than a policy to achieve or maintain the condition although in reality national security tends to be an umbrella term which includes both the policy and state of security.  I very much like the Walter Lippmann and following quotations given in a Wikipedia article which defines national security:
"a nation has security when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate interests to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by war". A later definition by Harold Lasswell, a political scientist, in 1950, looks at national security from almost the same aspect, that of external coercion. "The distinctive meaning of national security means freedom from foreign dictation."

Oxford Dictionary

  1. A thing aimed at or sought; a goal

It may be worthwhile to look at the meaning of the term "objectives" with respect to a similar term, "goals". There is a lot of discussion online about the subtle differences with the implication that a goal is a somewhat vague, future "end" whereas objectives are specific "ends" which occur in specific time frames.

pursuit of national security objectives
Putting it all together, we can extract some interesting interpretation of what this resolution is expecting for an affirmative advocacy. It could be assumed pursuit of national security objectives suggests a focused attempt to achieve discrete national security targets (milestones or conditions) rather than some vague definition of national security as a feeling of personal safety or more broadly as the concept of doing whatever it takes to avoid a terrorist attack or war.


  1. in or to a higher place
  2. in or to a higher rank or number


  1. of or relating to information that is stored in the form of the numbers 0 and 1
  2. using or characterized by computer technology


  1. the state of being alone : the state of being away from other people
  2. the state of being away from public attention

Digital privacy is often used in relation to Internet privacy and certainly that is a legitimate concern.  Digital privacy is broader, however.  In today's world, virtually all forms of information and communication ends up in a digital format. When in digital form, there exists numerous technologies to store, search, categorize, and review the information and in many cases, because computers are linked together around the world, there is almost no way to know who may have access to the information. Sadly, the growth of technological capability has far out-paced the ability of governments and laws to control and prevent potential abuse and misuse of information.

DeVries 2014:
The modern evolution of the privacy right is closely tied to the story of industrial age technological development' from the telephone to flying machines. As each new technology allowed new intrusions into things intimate, the law reacted slowly in an attempt to protect the sphere of the private. Digital technology computing, databases, the Internet, mobile communications, and the like thus calls for further evolution of privacy rights, both conceptually and in law. Unlike previous technological changes, however, the scope and magnitude of the digital revolution is such that privacy law cannot respond quickly enough to keep privacy protections relevant and robust.


Superficially, we can conclude this debate will center around that idea that the U.S government should sacrifice its citizen's digital privacy in order to achieve its national security objectives insofar as those rights may clash with the pursuit of those objectives. It is an interesting and important distinction to note we are debating the actions of the United States government and not the actions or decisions of the citizens. We are not debating whether people should be willing to sacrifice their privacy in order to achieve the security objectives. Potentially this minimizes the impact of evidence such as public opinion polls and such. One of the key points will be how much conflict is there between pursuit of national security objectives and the digital privacy of citizens and what are the impacts of this collision of ideals? Neg, no doubt, must concede there is value to maintaining national security and both sides will agree the impact of failing to achieve national security objectives has severe harms. So what does this mean for Neg? Intuitively, Neg must show that national security can be achieved without sacrificing privacy or that some important value is being harmed by affirming the resolution. In fact, Neg should probably take both positions.

Protecting Privacy in the Digital Age
Berkeley Technology Law Journal; Volume 18, Issue 1, Article 19
Will Thomas DeVries
February 2014

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