He's also slipped seamlessly between academia and civil service: Felten has been a professor at Princeton for more than two decades, and currently serves as the founding director of the school's Center for Information Technology Policy. But from 2011 through 2012 he served as the first chief technologist at the Federal Trade Commission -- the government's de facto privacy watchdog.
Felten's also weighed in on government surveillance efforts: In the wake of revelations about National Security Agency surveillance programs from former government contractor Edward Snowden, Felten publicly argued that phone record data being vacuumed up by the government could reveal extremely sensitive personal information. In fact, he made that point in a brief supporting the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that resulted in a federal appellate court decision last week that found the phone records program is illegal.
"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," Alexander Macgillivray, deputy chief technology officer, and Megan Smith, U.S. chief technology officer, said in a blog post today.
Both Macgillivray and Smith come from big tech companies -- Macgillivray is a former general counsel at Twitter while Smith was a vice president at Google. That makes Felten's academic background unique among the current class of the nation's top tech civil servants.