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@The Arts Unit Art Bites – High school debate club – 09. With Alex De Araujo

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ALEX DE ARAUJO: Hey, everyone. My name's Alex, and today we're going to go through everything you need to know for a debate about privacy. Now, privacy is often very difficult to debate about because it's hard to know exactly why privacy is important or why we might choose to place restrictions on it. But don't worry because you're about to become an expert at all things privacy.

So the most helpful way of viewing privacy debates that I've found is to consider every single one as being made up of four key questions. Firstly, do we have the right to infringe on people's privacy in this particular way? Secondly, how effective will this infringement on privacy be? Thirdly, how safe will people's information be? And finally, what will be the long-term impact of this infringement on privacy?

Thinking about these questions in prep and then answering them in a way which helps your side during the debate will go a long way towards earning your team that all-important win. So let's deal with these one by one, starting with whether we have the right to infringe on people's privacy in this particular way.

Now, this is the principle clash of the debate and comprises four main areas. The first is safety. Now, one reason why we allow the right to privacy to individuals is because we value their ability to feel safe, to feel like nobody is watching us, and that we're in control of our lives. However, we also infringe on people's privacy to keep the community safe from crime or other forms of bad behaviour. So ask yourself, firstly, what makes people feel safer, not having people snooping into their private lives or knowing that their government or teacher or the police or whatever actor in the topic is doing whatever it takes to keep us safe and the community safe from crime and bad behaviour?

The second area under this principle is ownership. One reason that we give up privacy is because people's private information is a form of their property, and people should have control over what they own. However, the government also takes people's property all the time through things like taxation for the good of society. So ask yourself whether the end goal of this policy brings enough social good to outweigh people's right to own their property.

The third area under this principle is the magnitude or the degree of the infringement of privacy. So if your topic is a big change that reveals heaps of really, really private information, then we're seriously infringing on people's privacy, and we have less of a right to implement that particular measure. However, on the other hand, if it's a small change which doesn't take away too much information, then, naturally, we have more of a right to implement it.

The final thing to consider is existing infringements on privacy in whatever field the topic is dealing with, like police searching powers or schools having your personal details. If your topic is similar to these existing measures, consider why people think that those existing measures are OK, and apply those same reasons to your topic. If your topic is very different from these existing measures, then that might show it's more of a violation of privacy than society is willing to accept.

So using those four areas, try to make a big argument proving that we either do or do not have a right to infringe on people's privacy in this particular way. Congratulations, we've finished the first question. That brings us to the second big question of privacy debates, which is how effective will this infringement on privacy be.

Now, usually, an infringement on privacy is designed to stop some sort of bad behaviour, like crime or kids bringing drugs or bad items to school. This question again comprises four main areas. Firstly, how effective will this policy be in catching the bad behaviour in the first place? So here, paint a picture of the government using clever keywords to find emails with conversations between criminals and stopping crime as a result.

Alternatively, if you're on the negative, paint me a picture of the government being swamped under the weight of all these emails to check and having no idea what to do. The key thing is to try and paint me a clear picture of the actor in the debate either succeeding or failing to catch crime before it starts in this particular manner.

The second thing to think about under this question is how effective the policy will be in deterring the bad behaviour. So paint me a picture of students no longer wanting to bring drugs to school or knives to school in the first place because they're worried the teachers will search their bags. Alternatively, paint me a picture of students still wanting to bring drugs to school to sell them for money or still wanting to bring knives to school for force or safety, and as a result, finding creative ways to hide them from teachers. Essentially, what you're doing here is you're outlining the effect of this model on future crime and deterrence and that effect.

The third thing to consider is whether it will lull people into a false sense of security. Often, when a new policy is implemented, people are less cautious in other really important areas of safety because they assume that the problem is solved. For example, if the government starts checking people's emails, people may assume that there's no more risk of things like terrorism, and that means they stop looking out for suspicious behaviour themselves, and that can be even more risky than if we had done nothing at all because it lulls them into a false sense of security.

Alternatively, though, this may be a good thing, because if people believe that the government is taking it tough and safe stance on terrorism, because there is less fear, there may be less fear-induced racism towards people of noticeably foreign descent because people don't feel as much of a need to be cautious of them. So that's the third thing to think about.

The final thing to think about is what effect this policy will have on everyday people who are affected by it. Will it make people feel safer and hence happier, or will it needlessly scare them, and maybe even worse, turn them into actual criminals or turn them towards this bad behaviour because it makes them feel treated like criminals, that's who they are, that's who they're being treated as, and so that's the behaviour that they naturally should exhibit? And that's particularly true for students.

So using these four areas, try to make a big argument, or even two big arguments, proving that the topic will have a generally positive or a generally negative effect on society. That's the second question already finished. The third big question of privacy debates is how safe will this information to be?

This is one of the biggest concerns in real-life discussions around privacy, so it can be a very, very important thing to consider in your case. However, it won't be relevant to every single topic, only for the ones where public information is being kept by some sort of organisation, like the police or the government. If your topic doesn't involve information being stored, for example, if your topic is that teachers should be able to search student's bags at school, then you don't need to worry about this third question.

If you do, however, there are three small areas which need addressing. The first is how will this information be stored if that's necessary, and how safe will that storage be from risks, like hackers, who could hack into that information and access that storage? The second is who is responsible for protecting and accessing this information, and could other people use those same measures to access it themselves? For example, if the government mandates a system called backdoor programming that allows the government and special officials to bypass the security on your mobile phone or your laptop, could some other group access that technology or that code and sneak in themselves to do nefarious things?

Once those two questions are considered and we've outlined the potential risks or lack of risks, the final thing you might want to consider is what the effects of that leak could be. For example, vital information could be stolen, or people might be terrified even at the mere possibility that their information could be stolen, even if there's a relatively small risk of that happening. Remember, an unlikely harm can still be an important one if it's a big harm. So if this question is relevant, consider all three of these factors to help make a smaller argument as to whether this information will be safe or not.

Now, the final question to ask at a privacy debate is what the long-term effects of this policy will be. The affirmative may say that it sends a strong social message that this behaviour is wrong and may lead to long-term reductions in things like crime rates because of that effect. On the other hand, the negative might make a slippery slope argument to highlight that this infringement on privacy may lead to worse infringements on privacy in the future.

Now, the proper way to make a slippery slope argument is to highlight the reasons why a current topic may be implemented, for example, that actual safety is more important than feeling safe, that any risk of harm must be removed where possible, or that we are already infringing on privacy in similar ways. Then, explain that this logic can be applied to progressively more extreme infringements on privacy, and it gets stronger and more convincing every time a new policy is enacted over time. This means that each infringement on privacy is normalised as people get used to them, which in turn paves the way for another, more extreme policy to be implemented, and the cycle then continues.

It's also worth noting that actors like the police and the government have additional incentives to pursue policies that infringe on people's privacy because they want to know what their people are doing. And looking like you're tough on crime and bad behaviour is generally politically popular. Hence, implementing this topic would likely be the first step towards worse infringements in the future and which you can then give some examples of.

So that's the final big question in privacy debates and is definitely fuel for an argument on both sides, perhaps for second speaker. So there you have it, the four main questions to ask in any privacy debate. Thinking of these questions one by one and each of the areas under them is a great way to make sure that you're covering as much potential material as possible.

My final piece of advice, however, is that each debate is fundamentally different. Not all of these issues will be relevant in every debate, and there may be other relevant arguments which are more topic specific. But by going through these four concepts one by one, you're setting yourself up to succeed in the best way possible.

So congratulations. You're now ready to ace privacy debates. Good luck in the future.

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