Prof. Felten Elected to National Academy of Engineering

February 9, 2013

I’ve mentioned Princeton University’s  Center for Information Technology Policy [CITP] here in a number of posts, on topics ranging from security “Worst Practices” to high-frequency stock trading.  I’ve also mentioned the CITP’s director, Professor Edward Felten, who in addition to his work at the university has also served a term as the Chief Technologist of the US Federal Trade Commission.  The CITP has consistently produced some of the most interesting research on the intersection of public policy and technology, and it has always seemed to me that Prof. Felten’s leadership has been vital to that work.

So I was delighted to see an announcement that Prof. Felten has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, “for contributions to security of computer systems, and for impact on public policy.”  As the announcement states,

Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to “engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature,” and to the “pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education.”

I have always found Prof. Felten’s work and writing to be consistently interesting and insightful, and congratulate him on a very well deserved honor.

Prof. Felten’s Take on Washington

September 17, 2012

Back in November, 2010, I wrote about the appointment of Prof. Ed Felten, of Princeton University, as the Federal Trade Commission’s Chief Technologist.   This was a term appointment, and Dr. Felten is now back at Princeton as a professor of computer science and public affairs.  He is also resuming his role as Director of the university’s Center for Information Technology Policy, and frequent contributor to the Freedom to Tinker blog.

Ars Technica has an interview with Prof. Felten, focused on his experience in Washington.

So what’s it like to be a geek in the land of lawyers? Ars Technica interviewed Felten by phone on Tuesday to find out.

The interview is short, but well worth reading for anyone interested in technology policy.  As the article points out, many people in policy-making positions in Washington have little to no technical background; many are lawyers.  And many of these people, regardless of their background, have some odd ideas about technology in general.

Computer scientists are a rare breed in lawyer-dominated Washington, DC, and Felten said it was sometimes a challenge helping policymakers understand the nature and limits of technology.

For example, he said a lot of people in Washington have a misconception that any problem “can obviously be solved if you try hard enough.”

In the absence of technical knowledge and understanding, many policy makers rely on getting advice from people they trust, on the basis of personal relationships.  This, of course, is at the root of the enormous lobbying business, but it is not all bad.  If the trusted people are actually competent, and not just pre-scripted automatons, it provides a means for technically qualified people to communicate their views.

… Felten said there are ways ordinary geeks can influence the policy process. The most important thing they can do, he said, is to develop relationships with people who do have direct connections to the policy process.

Although technology and science evolve quite rapidly, human nature has really not changed all that much.  Technical people ignore or discount personal relationship building at their peril.

Open Access: Another Approach

May 7, 2012

I have written here a number of times before about the movement toward providing open access to scholarly research, most recently in connection with the recommendation of faculty advisors to the Harvard University library that all faculty members to move to open access publication.  I’ve also talked about  the boycott of Reed Elsevier journals, organized via the Web site,   (There are now 11,282 researchers who have signed on to the boycott.)

Professor Andrew Appel, of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy [CITP], has posted a three-part article on this issue the CITP’s Freedom to Tinker blog.   [Direct links to Part 1Part 2, and Part 3]    He first points out that some professional societies, such as the ACM, the IEEE, and USENIX, do not require one-sided license agreements to publish papers in their journals.  He then goes on to propose four alternative strategies for dealing with less reasonable journals and organizations.

  1. The consulting-contract model
  2. The charitable donations model
  3. The contract-hacking model
  4. The union organizing model

The whole article is a bit tongue in cheek — I especially like his “contract hacking” model, in which the author modifies the publication contract before signing and returning it, on the theory that no one ever reads the returned copies — but it is nonetheless a serious look at the issue, and a good reminder to academic authors that they really do have the power to change things.

Prof. Felten’s New Blog

April 30, 2012

In discussing technology policy and security issues here, I’ve frequently mentioned Professor Ed Felten of Princeton, director of the University’s Center for Information Technology Policy [CITP], who is serving a term as the Chief Technologist of the US Federal Trade Commission [FTC].  I’ve just discovered that, in his new capacity, he has recently started a blog, Tech@FTC; he describes the goal this way:

Our goal is to talk about technology in a way that is sophisticated enough to be interesting to hard-core techies, but straightforward enough to be accessible to the broad public that knows something about technology but doesn’t qualify as expert.  Every post will have an identified author–usually me–who will speak to you in the first person.  We’ll aim for a conversational, common-sense tone–and if we fall short, I’m sure you’ll let us know in the comments.

I have not yet had a chance to read all the posts that are there, even though there are not that many yet, but I am sure that they will be worth reading.  I’ll mention two recent posts that I have read.  The first explains why “hashing” data, such as Social Security numbers, does not make the data anonymous,  The second discusses why pseudonyms aren’t anonymous, either.  (I’ve previously written a couple of times about the difficulty of “anonymizing” data.)

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of what’s there, and to Prof. Felten’s future posts.  At the time his appointment to the FTC post was announced, I was pleased that someone so well-qualified had been chosen.  Reading the new blog reinforces that feeling.

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