Smart Meter Surveillance, Spying, and Generating “Insights”

by K.T. Weaver, SkyVision Solutions

NSA Surveillance of the World with Smart MeterLast September I wrote an article, Smart Meter Surveillance versus ‘Very Granular Insights’ [1], which discussed how utility companies are able to conduct surveillance on consumers and citizens through smart meters.  That article mentioned how a company called ONZO described the capability for smart meter data “to provide very granular insights into customer energy behavior.”  Part of the purpose of the article was to convey to readers that the word “insights” was essentially a code word or substitute for the words of “surveillance” and “spying.”

This week I learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) uses the same language regarding the word “insights.”  Admiral Michael S. Rogers of the NSA spoke at the RSA Conference 2016 in San Francisco on March 2, 2016 [2].   I doubt there is little disagreement among members of the public regarding an assertion that the NSA engages in conducting surveillance and spying.  Admiral Rogers, however, doesn’t call it that.  He refers to “generating insights.”  Below are quotes from Rogers as well as a video excerpt from his presentation on March 2nd.

“We harness the power of signals intelligence to generate insights…”

“How can we harness the knowledge and the insights that mission generates?”

“What can we do to generate more insights?”

“The nation counts on us to generate insights to help ensure its security and safety.”

The above video is presented in the public’s interest for non-commercial purposes.  This video may contain material used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine under 17 U.S.C. 107.

If you watch the video, there is a portion where Admiral Rogers describes a partnership between industry and the government where they will work together on how best to spy on citizens.  This is consistent with the theme described in another recent article at this website, entitled ‘Smart’ Meters Represent Industrial Profiteering and Government Sanctioned Surveillance, According to Study [3].

To further make the connections between the words “insights,” “surveillance,” and “spying,” let us review portions of a press release this past week from another company called Opower on smart meters [4]:

“Opower [announces] the newest generation of its industry leading customer engagement platform.  The upgrade includes a significantly expanded set of advanced business intelligence tools that let utility managers draw useful, actionable insights from their ever-growing pool of customer data.”

“Opower puts utilities in the driver’s seat, giving them the power to glean insights to improve their Demand Side Management, marketing, customer care, and other programs.  Opower has been finding increasingly sophisticated ways to put our massive data engine to work for utilities.”

“Opower’s platform and advanced business intelligence capabilities combine energy usage data with location, weather, and parcel data; utility account information; and third-party demographics.  The platform also incorporates Opower’s advanced analytics including load archetypes, giving program managers unprecedented visibility into their customers.”

Going back to ONZO mentioned earlier, a press release was issued on February 9th, called “ONZO Announces Major Enhancements to Customer Insights Data Analytics Solution” [5]:

“This new release brings considerable new flexibility to combine many different types of data and look across that data to drive much deeper insights into energy consumption patterns,” commented Spencer Rigler, ONZO CEO.  “And since it’s these insights that feed and govern effective customer engagement, utilities can now enhance the customer experience and build the kinds of relationships that can only be achieved when you really bring your customers into strong focus.”

“ONZO is a global leader in consumer energy data and analytics.  ONZO combines the science of energy analytics with disaggregation, lifestyle behavior analysis and probabilistic forecasting to give utilities and their customers unprecedented insights into how, where and when energy is used.  Leveraging granular smart meter data, ONZO’s patented algorithms result in rich, highly accurate, customer-specific insights with actionable outcomes that help utilities improve customer engagement and energy efficiency, while reducing churn and creating new revenue opportunities.”

Returning to the RSA Conference 2016, there was a panel discussion on March 2nd that included Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), entitled “Government in the Crossfire: Data Privacy in an Era of Growing Cyberthreats” [6].  Lee Tien of EFF stated that:

A lack of understanding of data privacy implications has left government entities in the U.S. far behind their international counterparts. “There’s almost a technological illiteracy about the scale of data collection via the Internet,” said Tien.  

According to Tien:  “The people doing it know nothing about privacy.  They don’t have the ability to evaluate the risks they’re creating.” [7]

Tien also stated, for example, that the government in California is trying to collect as much citizen data as possible via smart meters and license plate tracking. [8]

Sometimes the spying on consumers is referred to as “data mining” as demonstrated by the article posted at this website last May, Utilities ‘Very Excited’ about Mining Smart Meter Data and Invading Your Privacy, where one utility company characterized your personal data collected through smart meters as its “asset” [9].

In conclusion, both the NSA and utility companies (sanctioned by the government) are conducting surveillance and spying on citizens and consumers.  They desire to collect as much data as possible, just because they can.  They generally do not use the terms “spying” and “surveillance” but prefer to talk about “insights,” I suppose hoping you will be too dumb to know or care about what is really going on.  With regard to unnecessary and excessive smart meter data collections, utilities give no indication that they have any concern whatsoever for the privacy rights of citizens and consumers.

Source Material for this Article

[1] Smart Meter Surveillance versus ‘Very Granular Insights’, SkyVision Solutions Blog Article, September 2015, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/09/22/smart-meter-surveillance-versus-very-granular-insights/

[2] Remarks by Admiral Michael S. Rogers, March 2, 2016; available at http://www.rsaconference.com/videos/remarks-by-admiral-michael-s-rogers

[3] ‘Smart’ Meters Represent Industrial Profiteering and Government Sanctioned Surveillance, According to Study, SkyVision Solutions Blog Article, January 2016, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2016/01/11/industrial-profiteering-and-government-sanctioned-surveillance/

[4] Opower Announces Opower 7, Upgraded Platform with Business Intelligence for Utilities, March 2, 2016, at http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160302005405/en/

[5] “ONZO Announces Major Enhancements to Customer Insights Data Analytics Solution,” February 9, 2016, at http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/onzo-announces-major-enhancements-to-customer-insights-data-analytics-solution-568136871.html

[6] “Government in the Crossfire: Data Privacy in an Era of Growing Cyberthreats,” RSA Conference 2016, March 2, 2016, at https://www.rsaconference.com/events/us16/agenda/sessions/2528/government-in-the-crossfire-data-privacy-in-an-era

[7] “Government in the Crossfire: The Challenge of Data Privacy,” March 2, 2016, at http://www.rsaconference.com/blogs/government-in-the-crossfire-the-challenge-of-data-privacy

[8] Tweet from RSA Conference 2016, at http://web.archive.org/web/20160304223320/https:/twitter.com/elinormills/status/705109401305100288

[9] Utilities ‘Very Excited’ about Mining Smart Meter Data and Invading Your Privacy, SkyVision Solutions Blog Article, May 2015, at https://smartgridawareness.org/2015/05/19/utilities-excited-about-mining-smart-meter-data/

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About SkyVision Solutions

Raising public awareness and finding solutions for smart grid issues related to invasions of privacy, data security, cyber threats, health and societal impacts, as well as hazards related to radiofrequency (RF) radiation emissions from all wireless devices, including smart meters.
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