NAPERVILLE, IL — As a follow-up to another blog posting, “Naperville Smart Meters Keep Track of Household Activities,” a new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was made by members of a Naperville household to obtain information related to smart meter readings for their account.
The graph presented above shows actual smart meter data for Friday, July 26, 2013, for a Naperville, Illinois, residence. This “real life” example of an electrical usage profile is fairly basic and should allow anyone to properly surmise the activities and occupancy status for this home. The family was asleep during the early morning hours of July 26 until about 4:45 am when there is then a spike in energy usage. The family was not using air conditioning due to the reasonably cool summer weather being experienced during this time period. Ceiling fans were used for night-time air movement and cooling. The family members arose to go through a morning routine of bathing and getting dressed, etc., and were out of the house by 7:30 am. Family members did not return home for the remainder of the day or evening.
What is the significance of the above information?
- The utility would likely say that the homeowners are now “empowered” to better manage their energy usage by having this information. For instance, in this case, people can now realize that if they don’t use their ceiling fans at night to keep cool, they could lower their night-time energy usage. Just sweat it out and be uncomfortable instead. I know, I am being sarcastic, but that is how stupid some of the utility statements really are once you think about them.
- The above information in the hands of the “wrong” people could be used for purposes of surveillance in terms of when to best plan a robbery, targeted home invasion, or burglary. As illustrated by the example used for this blog posting, there is a good chance the homeowners have gone on a weekend trip and won’t be back for a couple of days. The smart meter data essentially advertises the fact that the home is now vulnerable for a successful weekend burglary.
- The utility counter-argument for the above concern would likely be that your records are safe with them and you don’t need to worry. How comforting is that with all of the cyber attacks and hacking into various types of computerized accounts that are reported in news reports on almost a daily basis? In addition, Smart Grid Cyber Security is in a State of Chaos and Deteriorating as explained in a recent blog posting on this website. However, my main point at this juncture is, “Why take the unnecessary risk“? There is no reason for a utility to collect thousands of data points for incremental energy usage in order to bill each customer for monthly service. Furthermore, in July 2013, a survey of 260 utility industry executives across the smart grid industry found that nearly half (47 percent) of the survey’s participants do not think utilities are prepared to handle the “data explosion from smart grid technologies.” What more evidence do we need to validate that serious data security risks and concerns exist with regard to the smart grid?
- It is also fairly easy to come up with good examples on how the utility assurances on data security don’t even apply. Let’s say you are a renter where electricity usage is individually metered for each residence and where the landlord takes care of paying the utility bills. Your landlord and possibly other “management” personnel would have free (and authorized) access to your smart meter data through online portals which would display information similar to the above chart. A form of cyber stalking could then occur without anybody actually needing to “hack” into utility accounts.
- Another line used by smart grid advocates is that “The privacy of electricity usage data is protected now and that will not change with the use of smart meters”*. This statement is basically an oxymoron because it conflates the terms privacy and confidentiality. Once someone else, even the utility, has your private and personal information, it is no longer private. What the utilities can legitimately say is that they will attempt to keep your personal and private information “confidential” to the extent that their systems, programs, and laws allow. Please keep this important distinction in mind.
- As news stories have indicated, utilities must surrender customer information to third parties under subpoena. In June 2013, the San Francisco Chronicle and the American Civil Liberties Union reported that California’s three big, investor-owned utilities had disclosed individual account information on thousands of their customers in 2012, usually to government agencies. Sometimes the agencies were seeking billing, banking, and address information that would help them locate individuals. In more than half the cases, however, investigators received energy-usage data for the customers.
Some people go to extent of indicating that smart meter data may be used to reveal their intimate sexual behaviors in the home. Such inferences might be possible but involve a considerable degree of speculation. In short, we don’t need to go to that extent to convincingly demonstrate that frequent collection of energy usage data by utilities unreasonably invades privacy and exposes people to unnecessary risks related to security for life and property. If we can determine, using simple analysis of smart meter data, within a few minutes of the exact time of when family members get up in the morning, when they eat breakfast, when they leave the house, when they get back home, when they retire to bed, and when the home is unoccupied for a weekend vacation … then that is much more specific and detailed behavioral information than is acceptable to me to be in the hands of the utility and others. How about for you?
* Quotation from the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) “Fact Sheet” on “Data Privacy and Smart Meters.”
Archival Links for Hyperlinks in the Above Article
It has been noted that at least one hyperlink in the above article is no longer valid or content altered; archival links have been provided below.
http://web.archive.org/web/20130906084417/http://www.smartmeters.com/the-news/4174-utility-execs-surveyed-on-data-analytics-.html; also see http://etsinsights.com/infographics/infographic-emeter-siemens-business-big-data-utility-survey-reveal/