Sunday, September 30, 2012

Smart Grid Technology Reveals Your Activities in Your Home: Privacy Panel Raises CyberSecurity Concerns

By Sarah Cortes-Ever since Chinese computer hackers reportedly brought down the entire power grid of northeastern New York State, utilities and the US government have collaborated to strengthen the US energy infrastructure to prevent similar occurrences. Smart Grid technology, including computerized Smart Meters, have been rolled out around the US, and there are plans to install more, including in Cambridge and the entire state of Massachusetts.

New Smart Grid technology can make your energy consumption data much more interesting, creating benefits- and problems.  Collected at intervals as low as every hour or 15 minutes, increased granularity of your energy consumption paints a distinct picture of your activities in your home. And, the activities of others in your home while you are away. Each person may create a unique "digital energy usage signature" that can be used to identify who is in your home doing what, when. This is helpful when you want to understand how to cut down your energy usage. It also interests businesses that want to sell you things, other individuals who want to track your activities, and law enforcement and related government agencies, when they wants to track your whereabouts and activities. 

EnergySec, a consortium of industry leaders and concerned citizens, invited a panel of lawyers, information security researchers and state public utility employees to Portland, Oregon last week to educate attendees of the EnergySec Summit about privacy issues with Smart Grid Energy Consumption Technology. The Smart Grid is the new energy infrastructure the US has been seeking to implement. Panelists included Lee Tien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). EFF, like the ACLU, is active in defending civil liberties. EFF's focus is freedom relating to digital, internet and computer-related issues. EFF has been active in keeping an eye on how energy consumption data collection and storage may create new threats to civil liberties, privacy and security.

Other panelists included Gal Shpantzer, and information security researcher from EnergySec, moderator, Chris Shepherd, ICCT, Chris Villarreal, California Public Utilities Commission, and myself, from Cambridge, representing the National Institue of Standards and Technology (NIST) Smart Grid CyberSecurity Working Group (CSWG) that is currently rewriting a NIST Smart Grid CyberSecurity and Privacy guide, including legal and regulatory issues.

The panel discussed the very recent rulings by the Ninth Circuit Court, US v. Golden Valley Electric Association, and the Maine Supreme Court, in Friedman v. Maine Public Utilities Commission, regarding privacy and security issues relating to government subpoenas of consumer energy usage data for law enforcement, as well as concerns about health and general privacy issues of Smart Grid technology.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Whistleblower Bradley Manning Supporters Protest in Cambridge, Boston, Demand Obama Free Him

by @SarahCortes-As over 30 press outlets filed an amicus brief to protest secrecy surrounding PVC Bradley Manning's trial, protestors in Cambridge, Boston and 33 Obama campaign headquarters around the US joined yesterday in the demand to free Manning.

Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents and media, including the video, to Wikileaks. Many view Wikileaks as a news outlet similar to the New York Times, and Manning as a whistleblower similar to Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers. Documents and media allegedly leaked by Manning to Wikileaks portray misconduct by the US military, such as that in the Collateral Murder video. Wikileaks director Julian Assange is currently in refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, under threat of arrest and deportation to Sweden. Four US congressional representatives have called for Assange's death. The US seeks his extradition for publishing the classified material. Manning faces 22 charges, including aiding the enemy, unauthorized disclosure of national security information and violating orders. The maximum punishment for these crimes includes life imprisonment. The government has not charged any of those persons revealed in the material to have committed atrocities or other crimes.

The Collateral Murder video, shot from the gunsight of a US Army helicopter in Iraq in 2007, shows the killing of unarmed civilians, children and two Reuters photographers by a soldier identified only as "Crazyhorse 1/8." The US Army refused to release it under a 2007 FOIA request by Reuters, claiming its release would jeopardize national security. No one is known to have been harmed since the release of the material attributed to Manning.

Protestors at the Primary Day rally likened Bradley Manning's alleged crimes to the disclosures by Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers, which revealed widespread atrocities and corruption in the US military in southeast asia in the 1960s and 1970s. Susan McLucas stated, "Manning has been held in jail for over two years without a trial. We're here on the eve of Obama's nomination to demand that he free Manning, who [allegedly] released information vital to our interests, which should never have been secret."

Many of the protestors had previously supported Occupy Boston. Jesse Perrier, of Veterans for Peace added, "to a lot of people [Manning] is a hero, for letting people know a lot of falsehoods about the Iraq war." Leslie Tetrault added, "I learned some things today about the torture of Bradley Manning that I couldn't believe. We have to all stand together. Because that could be me in there [in the US military prison in Ft. Meade}, too." Susan Rose of Cambridge, who participated in the protest, and Pat Scanlon, who helped organize itagreed. Dave Lewit of, a member of the Alliance for Democracy, added that Manning's Treatment was "an indictment of a corrupt justice system- civilian as well as military."

Politico reporter @JoshGerstein reported, "The amicus brief filed with the military's highest court, the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces, supports a request from the Center for Constitutional Rights to allow public access to motions, briefs, written rulings and the docket in Manning's court-martial."

The Boston and Cambridge protets were supported and publicized by a wide variety of organizations, including and, as well as

According to, emails turned over to Manning's legal defense team after months of wrangling over discovery, revealed that Lieutenant General George Flynn, who was serving as the Commanding General of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command at the time, ordered Manning’s solitary confinement.