Inquiry Project: Surveillance vs Rights

Inquiry Project

Nick Malone, Myles Garrett, & Molly Miner

Driving Question:

  • When do Americans have the right to privacy?

  • Are there ever any circumstances where Americans should give up certain rights to privacy in order to have greater security measures to be protected by the government?

  • Explanation: We live in a world constantly bombarded by technology, accepting the fact that as Americans some of these new inventions will be used to monitor our activity and shape our society. Similarly, with national security at the forefront of many Americans’ worries, this issue becomes even more prevalent than ever. But will there ever come a day that technology and surveillance surpasses our individual rights? Has this day already arrived? Even for the youngest generation, this debate will only grow and become more important as they get older. It is important for them as future leaders to understand the implications on both sides and historical accounts of this issue to form their own well-informed opinions.


The day before starting the Inquiry Project, students will watch the John Oliver video at home and come to class the next day with three questions about its content.

Students will be split into two groups and read an article from the list above. They will collaborate in small groups to culminate prevalent questions about the readings and share questions they came with to class from the homework the night before. Examples will be given by the teacher (i.e. How is the government getting this information from its citizens? Is this constitutional? etc.) These two articles are particularly relevant to students because they directly connect to their everyday interactions with social media.


Government surveillance is currently a hotly debated topic in American society.  Some people believe that the government should be able to do whatever they need to do in the interest of national security.  Others think that government surveillance is an extreme invasion of privacy and violates our rights.  Through this activity students should be able to understand both sides of the argument.

Culminating Activity Overview:

Students will be presented with a controversial scenario concerning Americans right to privacy. In this particular case, students will be analyzing the FBI vs. Apple Investigation. The teacher will start the Culminating Activity by presenting a mini-lecture about the situation.


In December of 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 were critically injured after two terrorists attacked a government building in San Bernardino, California. After the shooting, the two responsible, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, fled the scene only to be found by the FBI four hours later. The confrontation ended in a shootout leaving both attackers dead. After further investigation, the FBI discovered one of the perpetrator's phones, a blue iPhone 5C. The bureau went to Apple and ordered them to assist in the investigation, but initially the company refused. They said it was impossible to break into the cellphone because the data inside was protected by encryption. In order to get past the coding, Apple Inc. would have to create a software that would be able to break into any public cellphone in the nation, posing a threat to the privacy of other innocent Americans. In March 2016, the FBI withdrew their request to the company claiming that a third party had been able to crack the system. But, what if they hadn’t? If this particular case had made it to the Supreme Court what do you think the constitutionality of unlocking the iPhone would be? Does the attacker have the right to privacy, or in this instance, does the government have the legal right to intrude?

Then, students will be assigned individual perspectives to research (i.e. FBI agent, San Bernardino Police Chief, CEO of Apple Inc., Department of Justice Spokesperson). They will be grouped together by their assigned perspectives in teams of four to six, depending on the size of the class. Next, groups will collectively research why their assigned roles might agree or disagree with the idea of Americans “right” to privacy, focused on this specific case. Some initial websites will be given to the students for guidance.

Initial sites for student research:

All Perspectives

(Apple v. the FBI: A Closer Look - Late Night with Seth Meyers)

FBI Agent

CEO of Apple

San Bernardino Police Chief

Department of Justice Spokesperson

They will spend time in class over the span of a week researching their stance. At the end of the full week, groups will submit a single paragraph miniature proposal to the teacher of their group’s initial stance on the issue and why they believe as such. This is for the teacher to check in with their students and make sure they are on the right track of the assignment.

After their first submission, groups will work on creating a five-minute presentation to pitch their perspective to the class. They will be required to have a technology aspect to go alongside their presentation using programs such as PowerPoint, Prezis, or NearPod. Additionally, they will be required to include events throughout U.S. History that back up their stance. Examples like The Patriot Act, The Fourth Amendment, Kyllo v. United States, California v. Ciraolo, The Red Scare, etc. may be included to support the idea of each viewpoint.

After each group presents, the discussion will be opened up to the class to ask questions from their contrasting perspectives for the presenting group to defend their stance. The three opposing perspectives will have one minute each to ask questions, and the presenting class will have one minute for each rebuttal response. For a majority of the simulation, the debate will be student-driven, unless the teacher has to step in to steer the discussion back on topic.

The debate and presentation will be graded by the following rubric:Screen Shot 2016-10-08 at 3.51.53 PM.png

Wrap up Activity:

After the debate, students will use the knowledge they have acquired with a call to action. They will write a letter to Congressmen about their own opinions of surveillance. This is a wrap up of the unit and allows for students to show their own opinion on an issue. This also allows them to gain experience interacting with their representatives in Congress. They must include these three points.

  • Discuss whether you support government surveillance or should it be curbed

  • Bring at least three facts that support your claim

  • Be polite and thank them for reading your letter

Please bring two copies of your letter to class so we can mail it to the congressman or senator and one for me to grade.

The Letter should include the following format

Dear Senator/Congressman/Congresswoman (Name)

I am writing today to support/not support government surveillance of private US citizens.

(Insert at least three pieces of information that supports your position)

Thank you very much for your service for our country and for taking the time to read my letter with my opinion.


(Your Name)

***Feel free to expand on this format and personalize it. Bonus Points for changes that greatly improve the overall quality and sincerity of the letter!

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