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

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/7/2013 Category: Society
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 18,955 times Debate No: 38633
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (3)
Votes (1)




This debate will loosely follow basic National Forensic League Public Forum Debate structure.

The Resolution is the November Public Forum resolution.

First Round: Acceptance
Second Round: Constructives
Third Round: Rebuttals
Fourth Round: Rebuttals (No additional arguments/evidence)
Fifth Round: Final Focus (lay out a case for why you have won) (No additional arguments/evidence)


I accept the debate and look forward to Pro's argument. Thanks for the opportunity to evaluate this topic.
Debate Round No. 1


We the people, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, and ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense..." There it is, in the preamble of the constitution, the document our founding fathers fought for, lived for, and died for, a perfect illustration of why Domestic Surveillance is necessary and why the benefits, fulfilling the principles stated, and protecting American lives, clearly outweighs the harms. The first sentence of this document states that our government has the responsibilities of providing for our defense and ensuring domestic tranquility. With constant terrorist attacks, and the lack of information leading up to them, basically the absence of the NSA, the government is nowhere near fulfilling the requirements of the Constitution thus causing extreme harm to our nation. Domestic surveillance by the NSA is just one of many aspects the government has put in place to follow through with the principals created by our founding fathers. First, allow me to define domestic surveillance. According to the Webster"s Dictionary- domestic means of, relating to, or originating within a country and especially one's own country and surveillance means close watch kept over someone or something. So domestic surveillance is close watch kept over something by one"s own country. According to the NSA, their primary role is to collect information through various legal procedures, including PRISIM which was authorized by FISA Section 702 in 2008, according to Dr. James Jay Carafano. My opponent may say that this is a clear violation of amendment four, but in fact is not. Procedures are in place so that FISA warrants are granted to obtain information in a completely legal and Constitutional abiding means.
Now, please allow me to explain why there is utterly no harm of what the NSA is doing. Simply collecting and scanning information has absolutely no impact on human lives. Those citizens who are not involved in any terrorist activity should have no concerns as it will not impact them.
A direct quote from President Obama, "Our intelligence professionals must be able to find out who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they're planning," "The lives of countless Americans depend on our ability to monitor these communications." This means, that the benefit, is upon our ability to view these communications and legally intercept and prevent the potential attack. The benefits of the legal surveillance, prevent potential terrorist attacks, save countless lives, provide for the common defense and ensure domestic tranquility.
So as you can see, the completely legal domestic surveillance, not spying, by the NSA, provides very little, if any at all harm to Americans, but provides numerous benefits of saved lives, increase in national security, and peace of mind for citizens in a completely lawful, safe way that has virtually no harm to American lives, ideals, or principles in any way, shape or form.


THESIS: The harm of NSA domestic surveillance outweighs the benefits. NSA spying is an ineffective tactic for anticipating terrorist attacks, reinforces long term terrorist strategies, and represents a significant violation of freedoms for Americans.


A. Historically, NSA spying has proved to be an ineffective tool to prevent terrorist attacks. Although U.S. citizens are prevented from knowing most of the details, AT&T affidavits affirm that NSA data gathering began as early as February 2001. [1]

1. On Oct 2nd, NSA director Keith Alexander was forced to admit under questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee that prior claims of NSA spying effectiveness were deliberately misleading and that spying had not thwarted "dozens or even several terrorist plots." Alexander admitted that only 13 of previously bragged 54 foiled terrorist plots resulted from domestic surveillance and even those "weren't all plots, and they weren't all foiled." [2]

2. In fact, by August 6, 2001 the best intelligence the NSA could offer was "bin Laden determined to strike in US" which even the NSA director dismissed as "historical information based on old reporting." NSA spying failed to predict the attacks of 9/11. Some other prominent domestic plots NSA spying failed to prevent include:

2001 Shoe bomber

2001 anthrax attacks

2002 Egyptian gunman @ LAX

2009 attack at Ft. Hood

2009 Detroit Christmas bomber

2010 Times Square car bomb

2013 Boston Marathon bombing

3. In spite of black budget intelligence expenditures in excess of $500 billion since 9/11, the NSA now admits that it may not have foiled even a few plots and failed to prevent numerous prominent attacks.

B. These oversights may be because the scale of data collection and the logistics of acquiring and managing such massive databases have proved to be a drain on analytic resources. Because the NSA fails to focus on likely sources of terrorism, their capacity to analyze is overwhelmed; a phenomenon the NSA refers to as "information overload." [3]

C. Worse, NSA surveillance creates that singularly un-American artifact: a database of every call we make, every social network we update, and everywhere we go. However useless this preponderance of data might be for predicting attack in the short term, its existence is an almost irresistible target for abuse. We know that phone tapping has a long history of misuse. Hoover's FBI and Nixon's plumbers both used wiretaps to advance their personal political power. A letter from the NSA Inspector General to Sen. Chuck Grassley admitted to 12 known cases of abuse involving NSA surveillance. One man used the system to monitor six former girlfriends on the first day he was given access to the database. Clearly, Edward Snowden had the potential to download an astonishing range of information. How many Snowdens choose not to blow the whistle but sell select data for profit? We may never know. The NSA admits that in the wake of Snowden they are re-investigating 4,000 potential compromises of sensitive data.

D. Besides which, we don't have to be intelligence experts to know that terrorists have long since stopped using electronic communication in any fashion that might reveal plot details. Most terrorists plots involve little or no contact with overseas sponsors. Those that do almost certainly limit their conversation to coded generalities. Even before this summer's Snowden leaks, we could be confident that electronic monitoring is unlikely to snare any experienced operatives.


A. After Osama bin Laden declared war on the U.S. in 1996, he often repeated that his strategy would not be to achieve military victory, but to provoke Americans into excessive responses to terrorism. bin Laden hoped to draw the U.S. into war in the Middle East and force the U.S. to spend itself into bankruptcy. Even after his death, bin Laden's long term strategy has succeeded beyond his wildest expectations: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; military engagements in Libya, Syria, Yemen; and 3.3 Trillion spent in reaction to 9/11 [4]

B. NSA spying plays right into the hands of terrorist long-term goals by:

1. Costing a lot with little result. For 2013, the NSA budget was $10.5 billion. The highlights this year have been a miss on the Boston bombings and a high-profile leak that undermined the entire program while dismaying the American public.

2. Projecting the U.S. as a "big brother" state which discourages allies like Germany and encourages enemies. The U.S. loses some of liberty's high ground these days when compared against surveillance states like China or Russia.

3. Corrupting American values. We no longer renounce torture in the name of security. We've given up habeas corpus in favor of Guantanamo. We've sacrificed Presumption of Innocence in favor of drone strikes on citizens abroad. A surveillance state tears at the foundations of our freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom from unreasonable search. If we prevent every attack but sacrifice our essential liberties in the process, bin Laden wins his war post-mortem.


A. The NSA warrantless surveillance prior to 2007 was so clearly unconstitutional that it was hard to find a constitutional scholar that would support it. Even the American Bar Association protested. But after the FISA court oversight was enacted, some semblance of legality was restored. Legal, perhaps, but certainly not constitutional.

1. Consider that more than 5,000 FISA applications have been made over the past 3 years without a single denial. Does that number suggest judicial restraint? More like a judicial rubber stamp.

2. When the NSA seeks FISA approval for data collection programs like PRISM, they aren't applying with specific targets in mind. NSA is only getting approval for the collection of data. Abusers like the guy looking up his exes don't have to apply for access to the database or describe why they want the information. Clearly, this in opposition to the intended restraint sought by the FISA act.

B. The NSA is empowered to spy by the war powers granted to the executive under Article II of the Constitution. For the NSA to have jurisdiction over every American's personal information, the NSA has to project the possibility that every American citizen is a potential enemy combatant.

C. NSA spying violates our First Amendment rights by inhibiting speech and assembly free from government monitoring and record-keeping.

D. NSA spying violates our Fourth Amendment guarantees against unreasonable searches. Since law has established that government wiretapping is a search restricted by the Constitution, by what standard can any continual, pervasive, and universal search of every citizen not be considered unreasonable?

E. Consider further that NSA data is shared data with foreign governments, especially the UK. Can anybody really suppose that the authors of the Constitution intended our government to share data with Britain that they would not dare share with its own citizens?


There is no military victory in our War on Terror. There will always be terrorists adapting to our security measures and finding ways to threaten U.S. security. Think of 211B.C., when Hannibal camped 3 miles outside the gates of Rome. Every massive army Rome sent against him was defeated. Hannibal's army had spent 7 years razing the Roman countryside, trying to provoke an irrational response. But when the farm that Hannibal's army camped on came up for auction in the marketplace, the acreage sold for a normal price. Only by restraint and persistence did Rome defeat Hannibal. Likewise, the U.S. must demonstrate restraint against Terror. We cannot win by tracking down every bomb, we only win by refusing to let those bombs change us.

Debate Round No. 2


WestlakeDebate forfeited this round.


Pro forfeits, so continue my arguments from Round 2.
Debate Round No. 3


WestlakeDebate forfeited this round.


Pro forfeits, so continue my arguments from Round 2.
Debate Round No. 4


WestlakeDebate forfeited this round.


No updates from Pro so I'll forgo any conclusion. Please continue my argument from Round 2.
Debate Round No. 5
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by Jakeross6 4 years ago
WOW! I enjoyed reading that round 2 argument. Even though this has been a while.
Posted by GDawg 4 years ago
What benefits? I don't feel any safer, and the government is getting too powerful.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by rross 4 years ago
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Total points awarded:01 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro forfeited.