A highly regarded information security researcher and outspoken critic of National Security Agency activities has been named a White House deputy chief technology officer, the Obama administration announced Monday.
At first blush, Ed Felten might seem a surprising choice. Just two months ago, the current Princeton University computer science professor called attention to a wrong-headed move on the government's part to ask for "backdoors" in locked, or encrypted, communications.
This is but one of his pointed assessments of a law enforcement push to weaken certain security controls.
After ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed Verizon was providing call records on U.S. citizens to the intelligence agency, Felten filed a declaration in support of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against "mass call-tracking."
Here's one June 2013 NSA rebuke from Felten’s personal Twitter account.
In case you need more reasons to dislike NSA/Verizon order: It says we can be surveilled *because* we're in the US.— Ed Felten (@EdFelten) June 6, 2013
When White House cyber czar Michael Daniel infamously said last summer that "being too down in the weeds at the technical level could actually be a little of a distraction," in his role, Felten was part of a chorus on Twitter that slammed Daniel’s remarks.
Imagine reaction if WH economic advisor bragged about lack of econ knowledge, or Atty General bragged abt lack of legal expertise.— Ed Felten (@EdFelten) August 21, 2014
ACLU technologist Christopher Soghoian, in a tweet on Monday, praised Felten’s appointment.
My dream of a day when the White House no longer requests SSNs via unencrypted emails is one step closer now that @EdFelten is working there— Christopher Soghoian (@csoghoian) May 11, 2015
Yet, while he disapproves of some of the government’s present policies, Felten's resume suggests a deep appreciation for the regulatory process and law enforcement. He previously was the Federal Trade Commission's first-ever chief technologist and worked at the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.
"Ed joins a growing number of techies at the White House working to further President Obama’s vision to ensure policy decisions are informed by our best understanding of state-of-the-art technology and innovation, to quickly and efficiently deliver great services for the American people, and to broaden and deepen the American people’s engagement with their government," new colleagues U.S. CTO Megan Smith and Alexander Macgillivray, another deputy CTO, said in a blog post.
Felten is expected to enlighten some of his less-techie cyber peers, including, perhaps, Daniel.