AusCERT's entertaining speed debate

Nine debaters, six topics and a witty moderator keeping everyone in check – that’s how it works at AusCERT’s annual speed debate. Why is it speed debating? Each speaker only had 60 seconds to make their point.

The first debate topic, introduced by the moderator Adam Spencer, was 'Is Snowden a hero?' Having seen the same question asked at the recent RSA Conference in San Francisco by Stephen Colbert, we were keen to see what the two teams would come up with.

The positive case was presented by Scott McIntyre from Telstra, Edward Felten from Princeton University and Patrick Gray, analyst and publisher of the Risky Business podcast. They argued strongly, and humorously, that Snowden was a revolutionary hero who provided the world with a reality check. Felten was chastised by the moderator for invoking a sound a logical argument at such an early point of the debate.

The rebuttal was given by Marcus Sachs from Verizon, Peter Gutmann of the University of Auckland and consultant Dan Klein, who alter lived he was a man of many talents. They argued that he was anything but a hero. They labelled Snowden as a patriot, but not a hero, and suggested he didn’t even reveal anything interesting – Sachs was hoping for evidence of alien landings and answers to the JFK assassination.

The audience were able to vote using a Web app and cast a vote. The affirmative team had a solid 71 per cent to 29 per cent win.

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The affirmative team of Robert Clark from the United States Naval Academy, Gray and Felten won the second debate 52 per cent to 48 per cent. We heard perhaps the most colourful comment of the six debates was Gray describing Windows XP as being like herpes as you can’t get rid of it.

The negative team of Stephen Wilson from Constellation Research, Marco Ostini from AusCERT and Gutmann tried hard.

The NSA and friends are systematically undermining security standards so we’ll never be safe

The team of Gray, Sachs and McIntyre, raging for the negative pulled this one out with a solid win. The main crux of their argument was the NSA is part of the government and it’s not in the nature of government to do anything that is so well organised.

While the affirmative team of Wilson, Felten and Ostini worked hard, there was no convincing the enthusiastic crowd that NSA was capable of an organised or coordinated effort.

Your grand children will trade crypto currencies. National currencies will be history

The negative team made back to back wins with 62 per cent of the audience giving them the win. Ostini, Clark and Klein made a cogent argument. Clark, who is a lawyer, made the point that he really didn’t care as he’d get a third of whatever was used in any case.

It was a solid effort by the affirmative team of Sachs, Gutmann and McIntyre, but it seemed that the crowd wasn't going to be swayed by any amount of logic in this one.

"We have to face facts. No amount of today’s conventional security will protect assets worth billions of dollars” - Stephen Wilson

In one of the great twists of the debate, Wilson was asked to argue against words taken from his own website. His colleagues on the negative team, Felten and Gutmann, were under the pump from the start as the affirmative team of Clark, Klein and Ostini took advantage of the credibility challenge created by Wilson effectively arguing against himself.

The affirmative romped home with a solid 62 per cent to 38 per cent win, despite Clark thinking he was asking for protection of asses rather than assets!

Securing trust is more important than trusting security

The last debate of the day was the closest result with the win only recorded by the affirmative in the dying seconds.

Recording a 52 per cent to 48 per cent win, Wilson and McIntyre got a huge boost when their partner, the multi-talented Klein, sung his response as a Gregorian chant, reminding the crowd that "trust can’t be mandated, it must be earned”.

Despite a fine effort by Clark Felten and Gray, they couldn’t overcome the Gregorian Chant advantage.

Even Gray’s impassioned use of the Chewbacca Defense couldn’t get the win.

Each of the participants had a chance to ply their debating skills five times. The most successful combatants were McIntyre and Gray with four wins each.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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