Topic Analysis: November 2013 Brainstorming

Resolved: The benefits of domestic surveillance by the NSA outweigh the harms.

On your first reading of the resolution, it is good to identify the key terms.

domestic surveillance by the NSA: This resolution has one subject, domestic surveillance by the NSA. Note that it is not foreign surveillance, nor is it specifically the NSA Metadata surveillance program that has been recently revealed by Edward Snowden. Any domestic surveillance program controlled by the NSA is fair game for the topic.

benefits…outweigh the harms: This topic asks for cost/benefit analysis. There are no value priorities outlined in the resolution itself. This means you will have to define what values or types of impacts should be most important in the round. As you research and write arguments, you should consider the overall themes you are talking about.

This is a broad topic with many arguments. One benefit of the resolution is its timeliness – there are not only many credible publications discussing the topic, but there are many court cases that are being filed or have been filed against the NSA or Federal Government. All of these sources are great for research. One problem, however, is that domestic surveillance by the NSA is often classified. Even though much has been learned about these programs in the past months, there are still many questions that have no answers or no clear answer. Make sure you know what the unknowns of this topic are so you do not get trapped by trying to answer and unanswerable question.

This topic also has a lot of history. Though the NSA is under scrutiny now, this is not a new topic. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a nice timeline of the history of warrantless domestic spying programs and the NSA at Building a working knowledge on what these programs are and how they have been challenged or supported in the past is your first steps at preparing for this topic.

As you being researching, I think it is a good idea to build a list of topics you would like to explore. You should always be adding to this list.

Here I have provided a list of general topics to being researching. These topics will lead to specific arguments, but as I explain in Beyond Resolved, the first and most important stage of research is acquiring knowledge. Knowledge is required to make knowledgeable arguments. I hope these get you off to a good start for November.

General Information

*Because of updates for this topic occurring often, many publications will offer RSS feeds or update their webpages frequently. Make sure you stay on top of recent updates.

 Legal Concerns and Rights

  1. Privacy Rights
  2. First Amendment Rights
  3. Fourth Amendment Rights
  4. Sixth Amendment Rights
  5. Chilling effect of warrantless domestic spying
  6. NSA programs as violation of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
  7. NSA programs as violation of the Administrative Procedure Act
  8. NSA programs as violation of separation of powers
  9. NSA programs as violation of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  10. Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which has served as the legal justification for dragnet collection of metadata.
  11. Lawsuits

Caution– Proving that domestic surveillance programs are illegal does not inherently prove a harm or a benefit. For any argument based on a legal right, you must explain the impact of an illegal surveillance program. Proving illegality is not sufficient to prove or disprove the resolution.

Purpose of NSA

  1. defining “National Security”
  2. Prevention of Terrorism
  3. Core Values and goals:
  4. FISA Court
  5. Stucture of NSA:


  1. How much data has been and is being collected
  2. Who controls the data
  3. Who has access to the data
  4. What is “necessary” data for NSA programs

2 thoughts on “Topic Analysis: November 2013 Brainstorming

  1. I’m not sure I understand how there is ever a link between illegality and tangible impacts for these kinds of resolutions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s