High School Debates on Surveillance Informed by CRS

10.01.15 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Congressional Research Service has produced a bibliography on domestic surveillance to support this year’s national high school debate program which is devoted to that subject.

“Resolved: The United States Federal Government Should Substantially Curtail Its Domestic Surveillance” is the topic that was selected for the 2015-2016 high school debate by representatives of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

The Librarian of Congress is directed by law (44 USC 1333) to “prepare compilations of pertinent excerpts, bibliographical references, and other appropriate materials” relating to the annual high school and college debates. So CRS (a component of the Library of Congress) has fulfilled that requirement, providing citations to contrasting perspectives on surveillance in news stories, books, law review articles, websites, and non-governmental organizations.

“The conflict between national security objectives and privacy became a popular topic for debate when it was disclosed in June 2013, by former defense contractor Edward Snowden, that the National Security Agency was engaging in extensive surveillance inside the United States in order to fight crime and to reduce the threat of terrorism,” according to the CRS introduction to the document.

“The magnitude of the disclosure shocked many people, including Members of Congress, who were unaware of the extent of the surveillance. Many civil rights advocates viewed the surveillance as an assault on liberty, while law enforcement and national security officials saw the programs as essential weapons in the war on terror, the fight against nuclear weapons proliferation, and the general protection of U.S. national security.”

“In selecting items for inclusion in this bibliography, CRS has sampled a wide spectrum of opinions reflected in the current literature on this issue,” CRS director Mary B. Mazanec wrote in a Foreword.

“No preference for any policy is indicated by the selection or positioning of articles, books, or websites cited, nor is CRS disapproval of any policy, position or article to be inferred from its omission,” she wrote.

See Compilation of References on Domestic Surveillance for National High School Debate, 2015-2016, Congressional Research Service, August 2015.

The CRS document is unobjectionable, but it has some peculiarities.

A prominent typographical error on the title pages repeatedly misstates the debate topic to read “The United States federal government should substantially curtain [sic] its domestic surveillance.”

The bibliography includes the titles of six surveillance-related reports that were produced by the Congressional Research Service itself. CRS does not acknowledge that each of these reports has been posted online and may be easily obtained. Instead, the bibliography disingenuously advises that they “are available by way of a request to your Member of Congress.” The notion that hundreds or thousands of high school students are actually going to contact their congressional offices for copies of CRS reports that can be instantly located by an online search, or that the offices would promptly and reliably provide them, is hard to credit.

The subject of domestic surveillance was chosen for the annual national high school debate program over other proposed topics including income inequality, criminal justice reform, and government authority over Indian country.

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New and updated CRS reports that were issued over the past week include the following.

Poverty in the United States in 2014: In Brief, September 30, 2015

EPA’s New Ozone Standards: A Few Thoughts, CRS Insight, September 29, 2015

Emerging Markets: Is Slower Growth Temporary?, CRS Insight, September 29, 2015

Zivotofsky v. Kerry: The Jerusalem Passport Case and Its Potential Implications for Congress’s Foreign Affairs Powers, updated September 28, 2015

Abortion, Hospital Admitting Privileges, and Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, September 25, 2015

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Supreme Court: A Legal Analysis of Young v. United Parcel Service, September 25, 2015

The Lord’s Resistance Army: The U.S. Response, updated September 28, 2015

Mexico’s Oil and Gas Sector: Background, Reform Efforts, and Implications for the United States, updated September 28, 2015

Direct Overt U.S. Aid Appropriations for and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY2002-FY2016, updated September 30, 2015

Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges, updated September 25, 2015

Can Creditors Enforce Terrorism Judgments Against Cuba?, CRS Legal Sidebar, September 29, 2015

Iran’s Foreign Policy, updated September 25, 2015

Navy Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism Operations: Background and Issues for Congress, updated September 25, 2015