From The Intercept:

NASHVILLE: “Bulk information overload, that’s my favorite argument in debate,” Lena Grossman tells me in between bites of pizza during a short lunch break after winning a round at the Billy Tate Southern Bell Forum, a highly competitive, invitation-only debate competition held annually in Nashville. She thinks the U.S. government vacuums up more digital data than it knows what to do with — which hinders investigations more than it helps. “The evidence is always going to be better. … It’s just unbeatable,” she says. “People are lazy in research sometimes — but the strategies against this argument just don’t exist.”

Lena Grossman and Faith Geraghty of Niles West High School outside Chicago.

Photo: The Intercept

Lena is 17, a senior at Niles West High School outside Chicago. She’s a former video game junkie with the build of a great blue heron, and part of a top-ranked, two-girl “policy debate” team. Lena’s partner is Faith Geraghty, 18, a blonde pit bull in Doc Martens and a former ice hockey champion who traded in her skates for an ever-present MacBook — now crammed full of information about things like the upcoming congressional debate on NSA spying programs authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Jonah Jacobs, a dark-haired junior at Glenbrook North High School, also near Chicago, gave up football for debate after a bad concussion. He tells me he spent the entire summer researching the ways intelligence sharing with other countries benefits the U.S. economy. Jonah’s partner, Anthony Trufanov, was half of the national championship team last year. Many high school policy debaters literally gasp for air as they rush to make their arguments, but Anthony breathes between words, using an inhalation technique he learned from mastering Systema, a form of Russian martial arts. He says he’s enjoying debating about surveillance because he likes finding “nuanced solutions to complex problems.”

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IF YOU’RE LOOKING for an intense, thoughtful, and detailed discussion about the U.S. government’s power to spy on its own citizens, you won’t find it in Congress. But you will find it in high school classrooms all across the country this year.

Nearly 20,000 American students participate annually in policy debate, where teams of two compete at the local and national levels.

This year, they are defending or attacking one central proposition: “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially curtail its domestic surveillance.”

Delegates from various state associations and debate organizations choose the upcoming school year’s topics every summer. This year, Stefan Bauschard, a longtime debate coach now at Walter Panas High School in New York, proposed surveillance as the topic. He told me he was inspired by the work of Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald.

(Greenwald was a debater in high school. “High school debate was one of the most formative intellectual experiences of my life,” he tells me. “And it’s both bizarre and gratifying to see that debaters are now focused on a topic on which I’ve done so much reporting. Competitive debate takes place at a very high level of sophistication and…

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