During class last week, we held a debate on the following proposition:

The US government should be given wide latitude to use electronic surveillance in the interests of national security, even if that means citizens’ privacy is not always respected.

We’ve discussed this proposition several times during the course, notably on the first day of class, when we discussed Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, and then a few weeks ago, during our class sessions on Cory Doctorow’s novel Little Brother. Last week, we read Simon Singh’s treatment of the issue in his book, The Code Book, and so it was time for a proper debate.

Before class, students were asked to make arguments for or against the statement in blog posts. You can read all of those blog posts here.

During class, six students volunteered to debate. Three were randomly assigned to the “PRO” side (security), three to the “CON” side (privacy). Each side had ten minutes to prepare opening arguments, then five minutes each to present opening arguments. Then the jury, consisting of three other students, evaluated the strength of the arguments made and gave each team of debaters feedback. That lead into round two, during which each side responded to the arguments made by the other side during the first round.

How did the debate play out? See this Google Doc capturing the main points of the debate, with notes taken by two of our three notetakers. The third notetaker live-tweeted the debate using the course Twitter account, @practicalcrypto. Below, you’ll find a collection of those tweets, which were more entertaining than expected.

As I said at the end of the debate, if we had a bit more class time, we could have brainstormed some compromise solutions that responded to concerns of both sides. We might still come back to that, depending on how the last few weeks of the class go.