The National Security Agency didn't exist during the 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.

The National Security Agency didn't exist during the 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.

Nonetheless, the NSA was at the center of the annual Lincoln-Douglas Debate on Wednesday at the University of Saint Mary.

Four Saint Mary students argued whether the U.S. government should have the right to monitor the private lives of citizens.

Josh Cabezas and Joseph Griffith were assigned the task of arguing in the affirmative, or in support of the NSA's metadata collection efforts. Ana Gamboa and Carolyn Ellis argued in the negative, or in opposition to NSA programs that reportedly collect information about U.S. citizens.

As in the past, the debate was observed by Robert Bednar, a judge for the state's First Judicial District, which includes Leavenworth County.

Bednar offered his observations about the issue at the conclusion of the debate.

"This argument about security and liberty is nothing new," Bednar said.

He said it's an important topic.

Who won Wednesday's debate depends on one's perspective.

Bednar said people who trust the federal government will side with the arguments of Cabezas and Griffith. People who don't trust the government will side with Gamboa and Ellis.

"That is where it lays until the Supreme Court of the United States rules on this issue," Bednar said, something that may happen in about 1.5 years.

Wednesday's event was named after a series of debates between Lincoln and Douglas during a U.S. Senate race in Illinois.

Lincoln lost the Senate race, but defeated Douglas in the 1860 presidential election.

Saint Mary's Lincoln-Douglas Debate is a precursor to the university's annual Lincoln Event. The 2014 Lincoln Event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday in the Xavier Theatre on the university's Leavenworth campus.

The lecture will feature a presentation about Lincoln's family from Civil War historians Herschel Stroud and Jacque Stroud. The event is free and open to the public.

During Wednesday's debate, Gamboa argued the U.S. was overrun by fear following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She compared it to the internment of Japanese Americans after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

"Just like World War II, the United States entered a state of fear and anger," she said.

Cabezas also provided a historical perspective, saying the work of code-breakers in the 1950s helped lead to the capture of Soviet spies in the U.S.

Ellis argued NSA programs have violated Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizures.

Griffith argued the NSA has protected millions of people from terrorist activity.

Bednar noted that two federal judges have issued different rulings on NSA metadata collection.

Judge Richard Leon found that it likely was unconstitutional. By contrast, Judge William Pauley III found that metadata collection is constitutional.

Bednar said the decisions came about 12 days apart. He said the Supreme Court will ultimately decide on the issue's legality.