Career Notes 1.24.21
Ep 33 | 1.24.21

Ben Yelin: A detour could be a sliding door moment. [Policy]


Ben Yelin: My name is Ben Yelin and I'm the Program Director for Public Policy and External Affairs at the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security. I grew up as a bit of a political junkie. My parents are pretty political and so I always had an eye on policy issues. And then, you know, my formative years, there were a lot of very significant life defining political developments, the disputed 2000 election, 9/11, the Iraq war. And, you know, I think that helped develop my interest in politics and in public policy. I originally thought I wanted to be a politician. And then I realized that not only did I not have adequate political skills, but I just could not put myself through that wringer. So I decided that I had more of an interest in public policy and so I went to law school at the University of Maryland and graduated in 2013.

Ben Yelin: I became aware of the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security when I was a law student, I was an extern in there. Coincidentally, just around the time I graduated law school was the Edward Snowden disclosures. And so my boss, who's the founder and director of the center, decided to teach a law school course on electronic surveillance and the Fourth Amendment. He developed the course. He asked one of my colleagues to be his research assistant for that course and something that really, I think was a decision of fate for me, my colleague turned down that request. And so I was the second choice as somebody who could be a teaching assistant for that class. And I'm very glad that I was because I just became fascinated with the material. And when my boss wanted to develop additional courses and wanted somebody else to teach this national security course, he handed it down to me. And this is my first opportunity to teach a law course as an adjunct professor. And I really kind of came into my own as as somebody who could be a real expert in this relatively limited field of the Fourth Amendment as it relates to modern electronic surveillance practices, particularly in the context of national security searches. And it all kind of took off from there. So I'm I'm always thankful that my colleague decided to turn down the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for that class because it was one of those sliding door scenarios that led me to where I am now.

Ben Yelin: I sort of wear two hats at my job. We are an academic center, so we do academic research. It's generally my job to be knowledgeable on these issues, one, because I'm the director of public policy and so we have to comment on a lot of public policy issues, particularly issues that come in front of the Maryland State Legislature related to our areas of expertise. So there's the academic side and then there's the consulting side. So outside agencies have hired us to make use of our expertise. So I am a lawyer involved in both the academic world and the consulting world. And so I'm not somebody who goes in front of a court and litigates. I use my expertise to help clients, mostly government agencies, largely state and local agencies, and to help train the next generation of students on learning about topics related to cybersecurity, law and policy.

Ben Yelin: I would say always be open to something new, to a different opportunity that you were not expecting. And I've heard that, you know, this isn't just based on my experience, but a lot of the people I work with, they didn't know they were interested in cybersecurity until they started studying the topic and realized how layered it is and interesting it is and relevant it is in our modern world. In a field as diverse as cybersecurity, it is really a multidisciplinary subject and I don't think you can properly understand it without hearing from all of those different disciplines.

Ben Yelin: I understand that in my line of work, I'm not you know, I'm not an EMT who's going to be saving anybody's life. I'm but I want to be thought of as somebody who made learning about a very complex subject fun and interesting and accessible and, you know, somebody who could, in even just my small way, elevate the course of the debate on these very important issues. And I've seen that in talking to former students. You know, they tell me that they've entered government agencies and some of the lessons they took from my cybersecurity courses were things that they were able to apply in their work, and that's very, very rewarding for me.