Do democracies really need to spy on their citizens?

Moderated by Zack Whittaker | July 22, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: In the wake of the PRISM debacle, David Gewirtz and Violet Blue debate the need for domestic surveillance.

David Gewirtz

David Gewirtz




Violet Blue

Violet Blue

Best Argument: Yes


Audience Favored: No (81%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

How do you protect everyone?

David Gewirtz: What do you do? When you lead a democracy, you have two fundamental missions: ensure the freedom of your citizens and keep them safe. The great challenge of democracy is these two responsibilities are often at odds with each other, and yet neither can be sacrificed and both missions must be fulfilled.

But there are bad guys -- nation states dedicated to our destruction for their benefit, terrorists who kill thousands of innocents. These bad actors love our freedoms as much as we do, because it lets them travel through our open society and wreak havoc.

To protect your citizens, you keep an eye out for trouble. With hundreds of millions of citizens and millions of square miles, you must automate the process. You must look for indicators. You must aggregate tons of data. Because discovering a plot must happen before thousands of people die.

So here's the question my opponent must answer: If you don't watch your citizens, if you don't keep an eye out for people who are willing to kill thousands of your neighbors, how do you protect everyone? What do you do? What do you do?

Threat to democracy

Violet Blue: Domestic spying and surveillance is antithetical to democracy; while some say it's necessary for safety, it destroys the fundamental trust between a government and its citizens, which is key to democracy itself. We may be "safer" - and, are we? - but we will no longer be in a democracy. If you trade trust for safety, can you be sure the government is here to protect every one of us? I don't think so.

See also:


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  • Should be an interesting debate.

    Should be an interesting debate. I often think David is one of the better bloggers on ZDNet, and I do respect him a lot more than Violet . . .

    . . . but I *am* with Violet on this issue - I'd rather the government doesn't participate in such large scale programs to spy on citizens.
    Reply 5 Votes I'm for No
    • Good post

      just as Larry responded I'm alarmed that a single mom can make ($)7030 in 1 month on the internet. did you read this web link... c­a­n9­9.ℂ­ℴ­M
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • Benjamin Franklin stated it best!

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." (Benjamin Franklin shortly before February 17, 1775). It is impossible for our country to ensure our freedom. The goal of government (and society) should be the safety of the community, not the individual. If the goal is the safety of everyone then why does the government "allow" 30,797 (2009 figure) deaths due to motor vehicle accidents (just one example). The rights of the individual are not subjugated to rights of the nation.
    Reply 8 Votes I'm for No
    • History Refresher - Even Hitler 'won' an election

      Just because there is a "democracy" and an election, doesn't mean everything is peachy. Of course you need to spy in certain situations. As well, in certain situations the elected leader has no place being the leader. I know that is hard for Americans to comprehend, but democracy is far from being the panacea that we are taught in school.
      Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
  • There need to be limits on what government can do

    Just as government needs to collect some information about its citizens, there also need to be limits on what government can do. That's why we have the 4th Ammendment. You have to show probable cause and get a warrant before you can scoop up someone's private communications.

    Collecting everyone's private communication in secret for possible future analysis is unnecessary and invites abuse.
    Reply 1 Vote I'm for No
    • There also needs to be limits on what people can do

      There will always be extreme elements based on religion, race, left wing, right wing, etc. that not compromise. They will try and impose there will upon all others. Big data represents a way to save guard against them. When collecting large amounts of data you seldom look at individuals. Very, very seldom do you look at individuals, there is just too much data. When those extremes pop out of big data analysis and threaten all they can be stopped before they can do real damage.

      If you are afraid of abuse I feel that means you have something to hide. I have nothing to hide and cannot be abused by the data collected on me. I prefer democracy and freedom with security.
      Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
      • Hitler didn't target individuals either

        He identified groups which he deemed inferior or in opposition to his agenda and eliminated them.

        You don't need to be concerned about what you have in your closet – only if you could be swept up as part a group of who has been identified as potentially getting in someone's way.

        One of the first things that Pol Pot did was remove everyone with an education.

        This was severely edited due to spam filter.
        Reply 4 Votes I'm Undecided
      • re: There also needs to be limits on what people can do

        > If you are afraid of abuse I feel that means you
        > have something to hide. I have nothing to hide
        > and cannot be abused by the data collected on me.

        Completely idiotic. I have plenty to hide. So what? Does that mean I've done something illegal? Not necessarily. If I have a health condition, with the way health care is implemented in the USA, I would want to hide that. If I'm a woman and I'm looking at breast cancer sites and spending a lot of time on the phone with an oncologist, you can be sure my insurance carrier would love to know it. Wanting to hide that would be rational. And you're not paying attention if you think your daily electronic breadcrumb trail can't be used against you.

        > I prefer democracy and freedom with security.

        And Big Brother. Oh and there already are limits on what people can do. They're called the law.
        none none
        Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
        • Idiotic Example

          Your insurance carrier already knew. Since you are getting treatment for a health condition then the bills are being paid by them. I doubt if the oncologist talked to you on the phone without billing someone. If you are paying all the bills your self then why do you have coverage in the first place.

          Big data is a way to find those that are breaking the law. I still feel that only those that are breaking the law are the ones afraid of Big data.

          No mater what you want Big data is being collected. It cannot be stopped. Rather than put energy in to futilely trying to stop it. You should put the energy into controlling how it is used.
          Reply Vote I'm Undecided
          • You are not very smart

            "Big data is a way to find those that are breaking the law. I still feel that only those that are breaking the law are the ones afraid of Big data."

            Going back to the old and tired example of Germany in 1940s. Jews who did nothing wrong found themselves on the wrong side of the law. The law moved.

            Going back to current time just search for people who had issues with their credit histories. Somebody submitted mistaken report and bam! your credit score goes down and you can easily spend a year trying to get that thing fixed.
            Or if you get on a no fly list due to misspelled name. Not fun at all.

            The more data there is the more chances there are for simple bugs to flag people as some kind of criminals or suspects that can be later harassed.
            Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided