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This Critical Debate is part of a Debate Comparison:

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Less than 30 minutes
  • Constitution
  • Journalism
  • National Security
  • 9-12
  • College/University

Looking Back: 9/11 Connections

Use the artifact viewer to explore the image below and discuss the following questions:

  • What happened/is happening in this image? What story does it tell?
  • How is this image connected to the events of Sept. 11, 2001?
  • How could you use this image to make an argument about the state of freedom in the U.S.? About national security?

What would you do if you discovered secret government programs that monitor Americans' phone calls and emails?

You are an analyst working as a contractor for the National Security Agency. Using the access your job provides, you discover classified documents relating to multiple government surveillance programs. One program allows the NSA to directly access information from the servers of Microsoft, Google and other major tech companies. Another program collects the phone records of millions of Americans directly from a major communications company. Although this is legal under legislation passed after the 9/11 attacks, these programs go far beyond what most Americans believe the government to be doing.

Accessing and sharing these documents could get you in serious legal trouble. You might even be charged with treason.

What do you do?

  1. Create a website and publish the information you’ve found online.

    The public deserves to know immediately that the U.S. government is spying on their communications.

  2. Find a journalist who is willing to write a story about the information you’ve found.

    Going through the press will reach a larger audience and ensure the story’s credibility.

  3. Don’t reveal the information.

    You could get in serious legal trouble, and the programs help catch terrorists.

  4. Something else.


  • Should the First Amendment protect leaking classified information? What about publishing information someone else leaked?
  • What could be the consequences – for you and for other people – of sharing this information? How will citizens react? Lawmakers? The media?
  • How could revealing these programs affect national security?
  • If you choose to seek out a journalist, would you want to remain an anonymous source?
  • Why did the government create these programs? Why do some argue they go too far?

Have students use the Analyzing Evidence and Making Your Argument handouts to collect and organize additional information about the case, then form an argument supported by evidence. Give groups 30 minutes to prepare, or assign as homework. (Note: Students may wish to organize their sources and evidence using a spreadsheet, such as Google Sheets.)

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