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January 15, 2012 / Mark Largent

Guest Post from a STEPPS Graduate

Congratulations on being a part of, by far, the most interesting specialization on campus. My name is Jason DeSantis – I’m a James Madison alumnus with a STEPPS specialization. I graduated in 2010 and have been attending Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington ever since – Go Hoosiers!

I thought I’d pitch in a little bit here on the STEPPS blog, and Prof. Largent asked me to write a short piece about the things I’m doing and how they relate to STEPPS. I remember graduating being very pleased I had done STEPPs, but I wasn’t entirely sure how it would help me or if I even would get to really use all that knowledge after graduation.  I’m happy to report to everyone that STEPPS can provide some value in places you might not expect, such as law school.

My STEPPS background has put me a step ahead here at IU. The fact is that there is a huge and constantly growing intersection between our specialization and the law. This semester (the first of my second year) I’m taking classes in Environmental Law, Cybersecurity, and Internet Law. All are intimately related to STEPPS material, and I have been a step ahead of many of my classmates in considering the policy fallout or implications of various statutes and judicial decisions. Even our moot court problem this year was technology-based. I just recently completed my three rounds of oral argument, debating whether or not police have the right to search cell phones after an arrest, and if citizens have a right to record police officers in the course of their duties. With nearly everyone having a smartphone these days, and having incredibly personal information on these devices, your rights to privacy, and issues of police conduct/police rights to privacy and safety (after all, videos of police can be used to expose undercover officers, for example) are of great importance. They are also, hard as it may be to believe, still undecided questions. It made for an interesting topic, and I was able to provide a number of public policy-based arguments some of my competitors were not able to provide themselves or effectively counter.

Internet Law and Cybersecurity are more examples of interesting crossovers, and they might be the two fastest-developing areas of law we have right now. The truth is, while we’ve had the internet in our homes for over a decade, it’s only been the last five years or so where it has truly exploded with the user-generated content idea. For example, Youtube did not even exist in the 2004 election. Neither did Twitter. Google Earth didn’t show up until 2005. Facebook wasn’t open to the public until 2006. Policymaking and judicial decisions are still catching up, and everything keeps changing. By the time we get a decision on something, a new app might have changed the entire process, which could render the new policy fairly useless. These issues are the forefront of public policy, and they are related to every other issue we face.  Decisions regarding the internet affect business, national security, public services, education, healthcare… the dominoes don’t stop falling, and the need for educated people who understand these issues well is of growing importance and their value can’t be understated.

I know a number of the Madison students are considering law school, and I am sure many Lyman Briggs and Fisheries and Wildlife students are as well. It’s understandable if you aren’t, but your undergrad degree is in no way limiting you to entering this interesting field, and there is a lot of work for you to do related to your interests in science or natural resources. There is a lot of overlap between any STEPPS field and the law, and you can be in the field without having to work as a congressional staffer, for example. The only thing stopping you from using your STEPPS degree is what you choose to pursue after graduation – I encourage you to make it worth it.


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