UNL hosts international debate over government surveillance

Story and photos by Kassi Nelson, NewsNetNebraska

U.S. Government surveillance has been a hot topic in the news this year after former National Security Administration analyst Edward Snowden revealed the U.S. government was eavesdropping on millions of American’s phone and e-mail records. Americans aren’t the only ones talking about the NSA’s questionable tactics. Now the British are weighing in too. On Wednesday, hundreds packed the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s union auditorium to watch a debate on the topic between the British National Debate team and the UNL Speech and Debate team.

Debate proposition

The debate was done in a British Parliamentary style which means both sides debated one proposition. The proposition was: “This house believes that privacy concerns outweigh security benefits of government surveillance.” UNL debaters arguing for and the British Team against.

UNL senior Erin Paggenkemper attended the event for a class but said the topic was one that she finds interesting.

“It’s current considering our generations affinity for the internet,” Paggenkemper said.

British debaters Neshay Aqueel and Charlie Morris answer audience questions.

The teams

Charlie Morris and Neshay Aqueel represented the British team. Morris is a graduate of the University of Sheffield. Aqueel is a graduate of University College Lahore in Pakistan and a current student at the University of Kent in the U.K.

The UNL team was represented by Jessy Ohl and Jon Carter. Both are graduate students from the Department of Communications Studies.


Audience interaction

Spectators line up to ask debaters questions.

The debaters could ask questions during an opposing debater’s speech. As an audience we were encouraged to interject by pounding on tables in support of debaters and hissing if one said something you didn’t agree with. An interactive event, the debaters also took questions from spectators after the speeches were made.

International Student Exchange tour

This isn’t the first time the British team has visited the campus. For over 90 years the National Communication Association has sponsored international student exchange tours in hopes of promoting debate, discussion, and intercultural communication. When the team visited the campus back in 1927 they drew in over 700 spectators with the topic of business ethics. The team has seven more weeks left of their tour, but Morris says this is one of the best debates he’s had since they began three weeks ago.

“I think this has been the most competitive debate and definitely one of the best teams,” Morris said.

UNL and British Debate Team members listen to questions from the audience.

He also said he was pleased by the large amount of audience participation.

“It went really well. It was genuinely enjoyable,” Morris said.

UNL debater Jon Carter agreed with Morris. He called it a “wonderful surprise” to see the auditorium so full that people were standing in the back.

When the speeches were finished the audience voted on a winner by pounding on desks. It was too close to tell, but Carter said that doesn’t matter.

“It was a great discussion. The true point of a public debate is to get information out and let the public decide,” Carter said.

The debate may be over, but the conversation is not. On November 4th, UNL’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications will hold a panel discussion called “Privacy versus Security” that examines the trade-off in the U.S. government’s information gathering.


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