Resolved: In a democracy, the public’s right to know ought to be valued above the right to privacy of candidates for public office.

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Resolved: In a democracy, the public’s right to know ought to be valued above the right to privacy of candidates for public office.

I get the importance of debating current topics and issues, but we really need to stop when we start struggling to put current issues into “debate terms.” This topic is trash, probably the worst one I have ever read. Not only is it worded poorly, but it relies upon presumptions of rights that may not necessarily be true. It’s also very open to being debated in narrow real world contexts which provide opportunity for abusive positions. Let’s get to it then.

Definitions

Democracy – There is no absolute democracy in the world today, we know that. And that doesn’t make a democracy definition critique of the resolution valid. The word democracy here can be replaced with “democratic society.” Democracies share certain characteristics like popular representation, people being able to run for public office, and a certain level of freedom enjoyed by citizens of the society. Don’t belabor the point about what  democracy is; we all know what this is referring to.

Right to Know – This refers to the peoples’ right to have access to information, personal and political, about a candidate running for public office. Yes, you can debate whether or not this right actually exists, and yes, this does make for a valid critique of the resolution.

Right to Privacy – This is also pretty straightforward. It’s the right of a person to keep information about themselves private. Once again, don’t belabor the point about what exactly is covered within this right.

Candidates for Public Office – Anybody who is either running for or appointed to a government office. Yes, this does include people who are in non-elected positions like cabinet members and justices. These are still public offices even if not directly elected.

Ought to be Valued – This is the most important part of the resolution. It asks us this question: when a candidate’s right to privacy is in conflict with the public’s right to know, which one wins? Should the candidate reveal information? Or should they be allowed to keep all that information private?

Case Positions

Affirmative

1. Utilitarianism – Public knowledge promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people. When all information about a candidate is publicly available, it allows people to make the most informed decision about a candidate for public office. This ensures that the public opinion holds the character and behavior of these candidates accountable.

2. Rights are not absolute – A person’s rights only extend as far as another’s rights begin. This is why we can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. That is an exercise of free speech that puts other people’s lives at risk. Therefore, that right is limited. Similarly, the privacy of candidates for public office puts the rights of the people at risk. They are at risk of electing a candidate that could damage their rights significantly, or if given undue power, could continue violating the rights of others. Therefore, when it conflict, the public’s right know should be prioritized.

3. Governmental Legitimacy – All governments, and democracies in particular, are only legitimate if they are accountable to the citizens which they govern. This accountability is not possible in a world where candidates are allowed privacy. It prevents the public from fully evaluating and judging the candidates for public office.

Negative

1. Right to Know Doesn’t Exist – Rights must exist as claims of people against each other. Under a balanced social contract, it is not reasonable to contend that people would have a claim on each other to reveal information about themselves. Quite the opposite. People have a claim on each other not to interfere with their privacy. As such, it’s impossible to affirm the resolution.

2. Public accountability happens anyway – The public can hold a candidate accountable without them divulging requested information. The simple act of holding back information is enough for a public indictment of the candidate’s character. We’ve seen this happen across the United States repeatedly over the past few years. The right to privacy can still hold priority, because the right to privacy doesn’t matter in cases where it’s in conflict with the public’s right to know.

Hopefully that helps get you started. Good luck!

Resolved: On balance, the benefits of the Internet of Things outweigh the harms of decreased personal privacy.

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iot

Resolved: On balance, the benefits of the Internet of Things outweigh the harms of decreased personal privacy.

And the bad topics just keep on coming. There are so many more interesting things to talk about than the speculative personal privacy harms when it comes to the IoT. We could talk about national security, the economic impacts, or a variety of other things. Instead, you chose to talk about personal privacy. If you still think you have privacy in 2016, you’re delusional. Google knows everything about you, and the government can find out whatever they want with a few clicks. Stop pretending like privacy is actually a thing anymore, and please stop pretending that it’s more important than all the potential benefits of something like an IoT. But whatever, let’s go through the topic.

Definitions

Internet of Things – The idea is pretty simple, but there’s a lot to unpack here. The IoT is basically the concept of an internet where everything is connected. Cars, toasters, headphones, pens, etc… can all be connected to a network and send/receive data. On the one hand, this could be incredibly beneficial. For example, smart watches are already being used to send live health data from patients to their doctors so that their treatments can be monitored and improved. That’s one example of how this network could be great. On the other hand, it’s Skynet, and we all know how that ends. A completely connected universe poses tremendous risks and gives the bad guys a whole new toy to play with. What if someone managed to hack into your car and lock your brakes while you were speeding down the highway? That would be pretty bad. The important thing to keep in mind here is that no object or “thing” is off limits. The IoT would connect all of the things.

Personal Privacy – This is also pretty simple. We all know what privacy is. There is certain information that we don’t want other people to know or to be publicly available. The important part of this term is the word personal. The resolution here specifically concerns itself with the individual, not any organization or body like the government. You also have to keep in mind that the resolution assumes there are harms of decreasing personal privacy. This assumption is probably up for critique, but you will need to understand privacy in order to critique it.

Outweigh – This is the most important part of the resolution, and I often find that debaters struggle with properly weighing things. Look, it is possible for one benefit to be more important that 1000 harms, if it is a big enough benefit, and vice versa. You must develop a framework which explains what the most important considerations are when evaluating the impacts of technology. Are human rights the most important? The economy? What about societal progress? How and when does one of these things outweigh the others? Teams usually just get up there and list out harms or benefits, depending which side they’re on. That’s not enough. You need to explain why your impacts are more important than the other side’s.

Case Positions

Pro

1. The IoT Saves Lives – It’s already happening. One of the most important applications of the IoT is healthcare. With this amount of data, a person can manage and improve his/her health at an unprecedented level. We’re already seeing this with things like Apple’s HealthKit. Saving lives seems far more important than protecting whatever shred of personal privacy we have.

2. Reducing Personal Privacy is Beneficial – Why do we value privacy so much? If you don’t have things to hide, why does it matter if foreign entities can access your public information? Less personal privacy will actually encourage people to be better human being. They won’t be able to as easily hide the terrible things that they do, and will therefore be discouraged from doing them. It will also help law enforcement more easily solve crimes, which also seems far more important than protecting personal privacy.

3. The Unknown – We don’t know what potential benefits the IoT could unlock, because an aggregation of such data has never been possible before. We can, however, more reasonably estimate the risks and protect against them. The mystery box could be anything, but you already know what box A contains, and it’s not that great. So, pick the mystery box!

Con

1. Government Abuse – A government that has access to all this data is incredibly dangerous. With control of the military, it becomes invincible. The risk of government abuse becomes tremendous. Even something as simple as manipulating elections becomes much more likely.

2. Economic Abuse – Like with anything else, the wealthy have access to things that normal people don’t. The IoT would be no different. Corporations could use IoT data to manipulate entire consumer bases without the average person’s knowledge. As data about the lives of executives becomes more available, corporate espionage and blackmail become more likely. These realities all result from the violations of personal privacy that become possible with an IoT.

3. Quality of Life – A person’s quality of life decreases without privacy. Privacy is a key component not only in human development but also in maintaining a positive and happy lifestyle. Without privacy, anxiety becomes more prevalent. The increased benefits of an IoT are meaningless if people are not happier with their lives.

Alright, that’s it. Good luck!