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Transparency vs. Secrecy

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/28/2013 Category: Politics
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,596 times Debate No: 35146
Debate Rounds (2)
Comments (2)
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Resolution: Governmental transparency ought to be preffered to secrecy in the United States.

It is the stance of mysel, the negative, that secrecy is superior to transparency within governments. To prove this, I present the exterior moral justification of Freedom. Freedom ought to be pursued in all instances of life, to ensure that the general welfare of the global community is upheld.

To maintain clarity, I offer the criterion of a Constitutional Republic, to make certain that freedom does not devolve into anarchy. Freedom within the bounds of a constitutional republic remains self limiting. Frederic Bastiat said that liberty is "the ability to do what one sees fit, without inhibitng anothers ability to do the same". Let us proceed to my contentions.

Contention 1: Secrecy Protects Freedom
If the United States government were to remain entirely transparent, as the affirmative advocates, then our country would collapse. We see this on a minor scale, with the example of SEAL Team Six. After the assassination of bin Laden, the identity of the team that shot him was compromised, leading to the deaths of the team members. On a much larger scale, Wikileaks revealed critical, classified, governmental documents, which hurt America's image. Thankfully, the US still pursues secrecy, and because much of our government, and particularly our military, remains secret, foreign dictatorships, who seek to inhibit freedom, are incapable of conquering us. Thus, preserving our secrecy protects the freedom of America and her people.

Contention 2: Transparency Harms Freedom
If the United States government were to sacrifice its secrecy in favor of more transparency, then America's autonomy would be harmed. If we had not kept the Manhattan Project secret during WWII, then the Japanese may have built one first, and the world would stand a good chance of being controlled by the Axis powers today. There are countless examples of where transparency in government harms individual and national freedom and for that the resolution falls.


Hello, I accept your debate challenge, and will be arguing from the standpoint that freedom is not an excuse for doing anything one wants, that America's original concept of democracy required transparent subjection to the will of the people, and that there is a greater threat to people from their governments than from terrorist organizations.

Contention 1: Freedom Is Not An End In Itself

It's become popular to use "freedom" as a broad justification for anything and everything, even when this clearly harms the rights and freedoms of others; e.g. late-term abortion, public smoking, and alcohol use (and consequent drunk driving fatalities). Logically, freedom can go too far in harming the rights of others; one should not have freedom to use their body to murder, rape, or steal from others; one should not have freedom to use drugs without restriction when to do so harms others, e.g. secondhand smoke and drunk driving; one should not have freedom to use privacy to kill others whether in the privacy of one's home or one's body; one should not have freedom to use their speech to slander others or yell fire in a crowded theater (per the famous ruling by Oliver Wendell Holmes).

I maintain that a perfectly open government need not collapse, and that the U.S. would not collapse if entirely transparent. The problem with Seal Team Six was secrecy, as it was with the Iraq War. In both cases we saw a government unwilling to provide proof about why a foreign country was invaded. The Obama administration refused to provide public proof of Bin Laden's body to justify why we had invaded Afghanistan, just as the Bush administration had refused to provide public proof of Weapons of Mass Destruction to justify why we had invaded Iraq. Both administrations displayed secrecy and have lost public trust consequently.

Contention 2: America's Original Ideals Demanded Transparency

According to the Declaration of Independence, government is justified only so long as it serves the "consent of the governed" and when becoming destructive of their consent, they are justified in altering or abolishing it. That was the justification in our leaving England in the first place. Therefore it follows that a government must be transparent enough for the governed to consent to the governance.

"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. "[1]

Contention 3: Government Is A Greater Threat

I would argue that when looked at holistically in the broader scope of history, the greatest threat is always from government, not isolated organizations like terrorists. People have more to fear from the secrecy of their own governments and leaders than from isolated individuals or organizations. Logically the greatest evil can occur from those with greatest control and capability to commit it; which will be those in the greatest positions of power and governance.

America's founders recognized this and sought to provide checks and balances to government, a bill of rights and separation of powers to try and limit government; keeping it accountable. They tried to create a transparent government of representatives subject to the will of the people to prevent the abuses that caused them to leave England. They feared a tyrannical government like the monarchies of Europe which persecuted Christian minority denominations and other religious faiths, and implemented religious freedom as a result. See for example William Penn and Roger Williams.

Contention 4: Government Transparency Differs From Military Transparency

Just because the exact details of military research cannot always be divulged, e.g. the Manhattan Project, does not mean the existence of the projects and knowledge of what government is doing should not be made publicly available. A democracy works in keeping government accountable only if transparent. Just because all details of a military project should not be divulged for security purposes, does not mean that the general information about what government is doing should be kept secret. A free people have a right to know what their government is doing.


Debate Round No. 1


First off I would like to thank my opponent for the great debate he has provided, and now I shall proceed into my arguments.

Throughout my opponents last speech, he made it clear that he believed that transparency better ensures the freedom of the populace. But I ask him, then, why does he slander freedom throughout his opening contention? This inconsistency has me puzzled, and I would be delighted to hear from my esteemed rival why this contradiction has taken place.

In response to my opponents first contention, I would like to begin by separating this contention into two parts. These sections are noticeable by where my opponent has created a new paragraph. Against the first half, I have two responses.

1. Freedom isn't Anarchy
Justification: I have provided criteria for my value of freedom. Freedom cannot harm the rights of others through the criterion of the Constitutional Republic, because the laws of the country inhibit a man's ability to harm another. Furthermore, I have provided a quote from Frederic Bastiat, who states that freedom is essentially self limiting. In other words, the right to swing my fist ends at the other person's nose. Shouting fire in a crowded theater will harm other individuals, so in fact this is not an issue of freedom, but of anarchy.

2. No Alternate Standard
Justification: My opponent has failed to provide an alternative to freedom, so that shall remain the primary goal of this debate. Therefore, the fact remains that whichever side best upholds the freedom of America, ought to be the side which wins the judges ballots.

In response to my opponents second arguments under, I argue that my opponent is non-topical.
Justification: My argument was that the security, thereby freedom, of American people was harmed by the disclosing of SEAL Team Six. My opponent has failed to adequately explain how refusing to disclose our justifications has harmed us. He has repeatedly stated that the problem lies in the fact that the government is too secret, but has not shown why this is the case. Therefore, my arguments still stand.

My opponents second contention is, in my humble opinion, the strongest argument yet brought up. However, I contest this point via the following response: Consent may be Given Without Full Knowledge
Justification: Look at Osama bin Laden. All that was necessary for the government to attack bin Laden was the consent of the people. We don't need to know how we are to attack him, we don't need to know he is even dead. All we need to know is that his organization harmed us, and therefore we must bring him down. We do not need an entirely transparent government in order to rule with the people's consent.

In response to my opponent's third contention, I argue that he has given no sufficient examples.
Justification: My opponent presented much beautifully woven rhetoric, but little logic or fact. His only example of why governments are more feared than terrorists was the fact that European monarchies persecuted religious minorities. But he has overlooked the inconvenient fact that Renaissance Europe did not have the massive, efficient terrorist cells in effect today. Thus, because of a lack of support, this contention cannot stand.

My opponents fourth and final contention illustrates the fact that the government and military are separate entities. However, they are so closely linked, it is impossible to speak of one without the other. All nations rise and fall on military might.

In conclusion, we have examined the arguments that have been suggested thus far, and seen that though a people may be allowed to have a general idea of what the government's intent is, as in the case of bin Laden, the fact remains that absolute transparency, like my opponent advocates, would be folly.

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing my opponents next rebuttal!


Freedom To Do What Is Wrong?

I disagree with my opponent's assertion that I am "slander[ing] freedom" with my contentions for the simple reason that freedom to do what is wrong should not be permissible. It was clear from my first contention that I was opposing freedom specifically which is used to harm the rights of others, as very often occurs, both legally and illegally. Westboro Baptist Church, for example, abuses the freedom of speech by protesting funerals to rile up communities and individuals so that they seek to bar them from their communities. Westboro, which in actuality consists of a family of lawyers called the Phelps Chartered Law Firm, then sues said communities under the First Amendment for vast legal damages. I have written an extensive research page about Westboro discussing their activities in-depth.[1]

As another example, "free trade" is used by numerous major companies to outsource jobs to countries like China, Mexico, and India where workers are paid very little in wages. China has no minimum wage and the average manufacturing wage is roughly 1/30th of the U.S. equivalent. As such, free trade is used to destroy working conditions worldwide so that workers as a whole get paid less and CEOs more. It also results in the downfall of democratic countries who use minimum wages, since jobs flow instead to communist countries like China and Russia who use low or no minimum wages.

My point is simply that modern definitions of freedom frequently involve harming the rights of others, and to deny this occurs is to attempt to redefine freedom very differently than it is practiced. Regardless of how one defines freedom, the fact remains that many people today inappropriately use the word "freedom" to excuse their inappropriate actions in harming the inalienable rights of other people.

I personally agree with my opponent that freedom SHOULD be self-limiting and one's right to throw a punch should stop where another's nose begins. While our country was intended to protect the rights of others, in actuality many cases could be given where the laws of our country have allowed individuals and groups to be abused in the name of freedom. For example, the Native Americans were deprived of their rights early on, and treated as sub-humans. While America's original founding father William Penn treated them graciously, as did Rhode Island's founder, Roger Williams, later settlers were far less humane, raping and killing the native people. In the 1830s-40s, America started a war with Mexico after Mexico had opened its borders to American settlers, and shortly thereafter declared slavery illegal. America started a war with Mexico to protect the institution of slavery when the ex-Americans petitioned their former government asking to cede to protect their slaveholding rights, as related by Frederick Douglass.[2] One could similarly point to the treatment of the Hawaiians, the Filipinos, the Kurds, Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, and the Vietnamese.

The reality is that America has repeatedly abused many different groups in the name of freedom, and today allows children born after the 21st week of pregnancy to be aborted by the tens of thousands each year, even though they are at the exact same stage of pregnancy as those born outside the womb (the earliest recorded successful pregnancy is 21 weeks). Just because something is called "freedom" in other words, does not mean it should be considered freedom. Too many today define freedom in a way that equates to anarchy and harming the rights of other people.

Seal Team Six

Though I disagree with Obama on many things, such as his opposition to medical care for newborn children while an Illinois state senator, his corruption in the 1996 and 2004 elections, and his broken campaign promises such as broadcasting the healthcare bill on C-Span, I think attacks on him over Seal Team Six are misguided. If anything, I think the Obama administration was not transparent enough about the raid by Seal Team Six to kill Bin Laden.[3]

The administration could have provided evidence of Bin Laden's body. They did not. They could have provided detail about this to the public instead of media elites, as the Seal Team Six case involved. They did not. Where the administration acted inappropriately regarding transparency I think was stating which military group was involved, or giving details about the operation itself. All that was needed for purposes of transparency was to show the body, not so much the operation details themselves. Again, I think a line should be drawn in providing transparent detail about the general nature of what government is doing (which is appropriate and necessary) and diclosing inappropriately vital military operation details as arguably may have occurred with Seal Team Six.

In conclusion, I agree with my opponent that transparency when it comes to military operations and intel can be negative, but I do not think this relates to broad transparency in general about what government is doing, which is necessary to ensure democracy and freedom. If inappropriate disclosure of what occurred with Seal Team Six happened, it was not because of broad transparency about what occurred, but in disclosing specific details of military operations that endangered personnel. Actually, the Obama administration was not transparent enough by refusing to show evidence of Bin Laden's body.


Debate Round No. 2
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by Locke_Demosthenes 5 years ago
Yes, I am an LDer. I take it you gathered that from my use of an exterior moral justification I provided. Personally I agree with what you are arguing here, however, I enjoy playing devil's advocate, so I took the negative.
Posted by JustinAMoffatt 5 years ago
You sound like an LDer... am I mistaken?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by GOP 5 years ago
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Total points awarded:02 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro used sources...Argument wise, it is hard to tell who won.