After Judge Cathy Seibel, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, approved a $1.68 million settlement in March 2016, Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark, New Jersey, had an opportunity to do what very few law schools in the country have had the funds to do: open an Institute for Privacy Protection, announced in August.
Seton Hall’s Gaia Bernstein was appointed to head the institute, a culmination of her professional fascination with privacy and technology. She said opening the institute is a realization of her own dreams.
“I was always interested in how tech affects our lives,” she said. “I think privacy is the area where the biggest changes in our lives occur." As lawyers, she added, “we write a lot, but we rarely get the opportunity to implement.”
The institute changes that.
Keeping up on privacy law is akin to drinking from a water hose, Bernstein said. While other legal disciplines do not have to worry much about a shifting landscape, with privacy, “you’re teaching a really different class every year.” That’s why the institute is so important, she added.
While the Institute for Privacy Protection may be new to Seton Hall Law, the school's interest in the burgeoning privacy and cybersecurity niche of academia is not. Bernstein said the school has a privacy and security track. Students take required courses in privacy and security and can choose between health privacy and a general compliance track. That track will be absorbed by the institute, once it's up and running.
Seton Law and its institute’s goals are simple: to rigorously train lawyers to master concepts of privacy and security as the issues continue to grow in legal prominence.
“[We want] to prep our students for this kind of work,” Bernstein said. And this kind of intensive education is something that students – and the changing world – made clear was a necessity. “I think the combination of interest, demand, and us trying to make sure our students are prepared,” she added.
What that looks like practically for the institute moving forward is developing a three-pronged program, Bernstein said.
“I think there are several parts of this institute that are important,” she said. “One thing is the issue of consumer awareness. One of our core [goals] is educating students and businesses.”
Bernstein emphasizes the importance of training up the institute’s pupils as community teachers. The first element of that involves taking the guess work out of oft-intimidating privacy legislation. Currently, she said, the average organization might not understand how comprehensive privacy laws can (or cannot) be, and on either side of the coin, that’s a problem.
“Part of the reason we got this opportunity, I think, is because there’s lots of legal work being done,” she said. HIPAA, for example. While at first blush, it may seem like a health care law relegated to hospitals and doctors, “it now applies to any business associate, or any businesses that does business with these entities,” she continued. “For example, a lawyer is covered by HIPAA. He doesn’t realize this, but now he has to adhere to privacy law, and HIPAA is extremely complicated.”
As such, the school currently offers a HIPAA law course, which, in the future, will be offered by the institute.
Once students begin to have a stronger legal footing through the institute, then they can help the community understand privacy and security in practical ways.
“We’re basically training our students specifically to go to the elementary schools when the kids get their first cell phones,” she said. “The big thing is what we want to do is educate parents, and tell them how they want to educate their kids.”
The institute will promote that its students and fellows reach out to educators as well, who've such understanding of the law that they could both equip teachers and their students, some as young as fourth graders, to understand mobile phone privacy and basic internet security, among other topics, at their level.
The second prong in the institute’s program is business education.
“We already have a very strong online program, [where] we offer a legal degree” under the leadership of Associate Dean Tim Glynn, Bernstein said. Students can also currently get certificates in subjects like HIPAA and European law.
Looking to the future, Bernstein said she hopes the institute will be a forum for parents, psychologists, tech designers, students, and researcher together with academics to try and best develop solutions to the privacy questions that continue to develop as the industry shifts. Later, she aims to have conferences on various topics. But for now, it's about getting things up off the ground.
The institute itself won’t be up and running until the end of the current school year, but work is already underway. It just had a conference on European law and a celebration of the creation of the institute.
But while the Bernstein is happy to look ahead, she has measured perspective.
The institute "gives me the opportunity to implement the ideas I’ve been thinking about. [It really] translates ideas into practice,” she said, but added, “One thing I learned about privacy law is that five years is a long time,” she said. “I’m planning for the next three years, leaving enough to change my plan.”
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