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Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

Building Intelligence meets the Intelligent Building. The Intelligent Building negotiates with the Intelligent Grid. How will this transform how we interact with the physical world?

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Tuesday
Jun182013

Thinking about Snowden and Smart Grids

Privacy activists have long warned about the massive data collection enabled by smart grids. Utility representatives have long defended the smart grid by asserting that they have no interest in analyzing the lives of their customers. The recent revelations of government activity in the US make that defense irrelevant, as company after company confesses to have shared operational data with the government agencies. The lesson of current headlines is that it does not matter who collects big data, or what their motives are. Big data is a honeypot that will attract surveillance by someone.

One of the oldest stories of smart grids is of early researchers attempting to analyze the activity in a house from the meter. Early going was slow, as this was before modern tools were available. Still, after a couple weeks, analysts had figured out most of the electrical activity in the house: the big load of the air conditioning, the periodic spikes of the refrigerator, etc. Still, one activity seemed to fit no pattern.

Each week day, between fifteen and forty-five minutes after everyone left the house, there was a change in electrical activity. The researchers were stumped for some time. Eventually, they realized that when the family dog decided that “they” were finally gone for the day and not coming back, it would get up onto the nice warm waterbed. This changed the heating pattern for the bed.

After the researchers tracked this pattern for longer, they realized they could tell whether the dog was sleeping peacefully on the water bed and when the dog was restless.

In recent news, we have seen the US government asserting that there is no privacy right to transactional metadata. Times, durations, and phone numbers of all calls are shared freely. Businesses are subject to prosecution if they do not cooperate freely, or even if they reveal that they have been asked for information. Sniffers in data centers capture even secure information after decryption, so that even the internet service provider cannot see what is being tracked and recorded.

Some communications providers, such as Verizon, have bad records of privacy protection; they respond to all requests without push-back. Others occasionally push back on over-reaching calls. Based on their stated goals and communications documents, the utilities plan to share freely.

In the US, the utilities develop communication standards within the UCAIUG association. The UCAIUG develops communication processes and business process common to all the US Utilities. The standard for communication of meter data to third parties developed in the UCAIUG is OpenADE (Automated Data Exchange). It is notable that in their own OpenADE development documents, exchange of information with law enforcement is given a higher priority than exchange of information with customers.

The stated priorities of OpenADE have always been troubling. In the last few weeks, even the skeptical have come to see that big data is irresistible to government agencies. Protests by power utilities that they do not want to use the data are meaningless. FISA court data requests typically are known only to small numbers of a company’s employees. Discussing the requests openly, either within or beyond the company can violate federal law. A couple years ago, if worried publicly about this, one could be accused of being a conspiracy theorist. Today, doing so is evidence merely that one reads the paper.

We have it in each of our hands to preserve our own privacy. Consumer technologies exist to smooth power curves and permanently shift load. Energy storage technologies able to accept and provide trickle charges within a business or home can be used to hide the details of our activities and our lives. These technologies don’t let energy data out while they accomplish the goals of smart energy. You can adopt them, or you can allow further monitoring of every activity in your life.

Whatever one feels about Snowden’s revelations about current behavior of the NSA, they are part of making public how government agencies will make use of any sufficiently large trove of data gathered by others. Other news demonstrates a willingness to use information gleaned by one agency to coordinate public and political pressure by other agencies against those who dissent, and to do so without regard for regulation or fourth amendment. This should give anyone pause before contributing reating with the government.

We have it in each of our hands to preserve our own privacy. Consumer technologies exist to smooth power curves and permanently shift load. Energy storage technologies able to accept and provide trickle charges within a business or home can be used to hide the details of our activities and our lives. We can use minimalist economic signals to accomplish everything hoped for of the smart grid. These technologies don’t let energy data out while they accomplish the goals of smart energy. You can adopt them, or you can allow further monitoring of every activity in your life.

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