John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

FTC Gives Ed Felten Freedom to Tinker

Looks like the Federal Trade Commission got its first choice of Chief Technologist, because it’s hard to think of anyone better to serve in that capacity than Princeton computer science professor Ed Felten, a guy whose CV makes everyone from Microsoft to Diebold shudder in embarrassment. A renowned computer researcher, Felten has over the years led charges against some of technology’s most ill-starred concepts, chronicling them in his widely read Freedom to Tinker blog.

In 2000, his team dropped the hammer on the Hack SDMI challenge by demonstrating how easy it was to crack the decidedly mediocre Secure Digital Music Initiative.

Dragged into the Sony BMG CD copy-protection scandal in 2005, he discovered that Sony’s “fix” for the Digital Rights Management rootkit it used to protect some new music CDs furthered inflamed an already bad situation.

And then, of course, there were Felten’s various investigations into electronic voting machines, the most notorious being the one that revealed Diebold’s machines could be opened with a standard office furniture key. “The access panel door on a Diebold AccuVote-TS voting machine–the door that protects the memory card that stores the votes, and is the main barrier to the injection of a virus–can be opened with a standard key that is widely available on the Internet,” Felten wrote at the time. “The exact same key is used widely in office furniture, electronic equipment, jukeboxes, and hotel minibars.”

Thank God for Felten, right?

And thank God the FTC has seen fit to hire him. There’s a lot of good he can do there. As Felten described it, “My main job will be to advise the FTC leadership on technology policy issues. My goals are use my technical expertise and knowledge of the tech world to help the FTC make the best decisions on tech topics, and to contribute to building up the agency’s technical capabilities.”

Said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, “Ed is extraordinarily respected in the technology community, and his background and knowledge make him an outstanding choice to serve as the agency’s first Chief Technologist. He’s going to add unparalleled expertise on high-technology markets and computer security.”