Thursday, March 11, 2010

Smart Grid and Privacy: EFF Comments and Upcoming PUC Hearings

I've written quite extensively on the growing debate over smart electricity meters and the potential threat they pose to privacy (if we don't take the proper precautions).

To read my article on the subject that was published on the California Progress Report just click here.

As I also mentioned in past posts, in response to a rulemaking by the California PUC, and the lack of attention being paid to the concerns of privacy advocates to date on this issue, the Consumer Federation of California (CFC) recently joined The Utilities Reform Network (TURN) in urging the Commission to allow for a more comprehensive review and debate regarding such concerns.

I'm happy to report that not only has such a discussion been planned for March 19th by the CPUC, but yours truly, will be one of the panelists. Here's a few more details:

March 19, 2010
9:30 am – 4:30 pm
CPUC, 505 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94102

The workshop will focus on the rules that the CPUC should adopt to meet the objectives of providing access to:

1. Wholesale and retail price information,
2. Access to usage data for authorized third parties; and,
3. Access on a near real-time basis to usage data by consumers and/or authorized third parties.


9:30 a.m. - 9:45 a.m. Welcome and Opening Comments:
Assigned Commissioner Nancy E. Ryan & ALJ Sullivan

9:45 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. Smart Meter Texas - Bob Frazier, Center Point Utility, will discuss the experience of Texas utilities in building a web portal to provide usage, cost, and customer interface

10:30 a.m. – noon Customer Perspective – Ensuring customer privacy

· Karin Hieta, DRA
· Marcel Hawiger, TURN
· Zack Kaldveer, CFC
· Jim Dempsey, CDT

1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Vendors Perspective – Creating a system capable of providing the data

· Duke Troxell, EDS
· Michael Terrell, Google
· Dave Mollerstuen, Tendril
· Mark Potter, EnerNoc

2:30 p.m. - 2:45 p.m. Break

2:45 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. Utility Perspective – Obstacles & Opportunities

· Paul DeMartini, SCE
· Ed Fong, SDG&E
· Andrew Tang, PG&E
· Bob Frazier, Center Point

For today, I wanted to post some of what the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Lee Tien - someone who's expertise I often use in writing this blog - had to say about Smart Grid and Privacy, the upcoming PUC hearings, as well as his own organizations filings to the PUC with the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Lee writes:

The ebb and flow of gas and electricity into your home contains surprisingly detailed information about your daily life. Energy usage data, measured moment by moment, allows the reconstruction of a household's activities: when people wake up, when they come home, when they go on vacation, and maybe even when they take a hot bath.

California's PG&E is currently in the process of installing "smart meters" that will collect this moment by moment data—750 to 3000 data points per month per household—for every energy customer in the state. These meters are aimed at helping consumers monitor and control their energy usage, but right now, the program lacks critical privacy protections.

That's why EFF and other privacy groups filed comments with the California Public Utilities Commission Tuesday, asking for the adoption of strong rules to protect the privacy and security of customers' energy-usage information. Without strong protections, this information can and will be repurposed by interested parties. It's not hard to imagine a divorce lawyer subpoenaing this information, an insurance company interpreting the data in a way that allows it to penalize customers, or criminals intercepting the information to plan a burglary. Marketing companies will also desperately want to access this data to get new intimate new insights into your family's day-to-day routine–not to mention the government, which wants to mine the data for law enforcement and other purposes.

This isn't just a California issue. Many threats to the privacy of the home—where our privacy rights should be strongest—were detailed in a 2009 report for the Colorado Public Utility Commission. The federal government has been promoting the smart grid as part of its economic stimulus package, and last year, EFF and other groups warned the National Institute of Standards and Technology about the privacy and security issues at stake.

For example, security researchers worry that today’s smart meters and their communications networks are vulnerable to a variety of attacks. There are also questions of reliability, as PG&E faces criticism from California customers who have seen bills skyrocket after the installation of the new "smart meters." Unsurprisingly, California legislators are questioning the rapid rollout. Texas customers are also complaining.

There are far more questions than answers when it comes to this new technology. While it's potentially beneficial, it could also usher in new intrusions into our home and private life. The states and the federal government should ensure that energy customers get the protection they deserve.

Stay tuned...


Media Mentions said...

Here's something else I came across today: an interesting supplement to your post I believe:


Randy Owens said...

I continue to be amazed that there is such a 'government conspiracy' slant at work re: AMI/SmartGrid. Meanwhile, according to reports, Sprint has created a PORTAL for law enforcement to allow full access to GIS data recorded from their cell network. So which is more invasive - that someone may have a good guess that you just took a shower, or that someone can track your whereabouts down to an accuracy of 1-3 meters ANY TIME day or night assuming your cell phone is with you (and you know it is!). I'll trade my shower data any day to be able to protect my right to move freely about the country without law enforcement being able to track me in real time.

"It'll never be used" you say? Well, last year according to ARSTechnica, it was accessed 8,000,000 by various local, state, and federal agencies.

My opinion is that you are spending your time looking at the wrong privacy issues! I do enjoy your posts though.

Ola said...

Unfortunately "privacy" ceased to exist in our country with the advent of coding for all products and services. When you go to a new store and give your zip code or card, you find out that the store knows how old you are, where you live, work, your numbers and everything else. Your entire life is "coded" - your ailments, profession, education, habits, drug use, alcohol use, your medical history, genes, FICA score, SAT score, GED, CORE.
Smart meters will just be another code - everything in the service of marketing products and services. My philosophy - give them so much data that iwill confuse them. Add unknown ailments, coded behavioral traits, languages that could not be classified, drugs with invented names. Then go on the street in a large veiled hat and pretend to be stark crazy. No one will be interested and you get privacy.
Alexandra Hawiger

CFC said...

Hey Randy,

I agree with you in terms of the GPS issue and sprint. In fact, I've posted a whole lot about it, and in fact, will mention in in tomorrow's presentation.