Case Number: 13-0506

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  • November 5, 2013

    November 5, 2013

    Illinois Commerce Commission
    527 East Capitol Avenue
    Springfield, IL 62701

    In re: Case Number 13-0506

    To the Illinois Commerce Commissioners:

    With regard to the upcoming decision on the release by utilities of customer specific information to third parties, I offer my public comment. As a faculty member at the University of Chicago, one of the leading research institutions in the nation, I can attest that access to data – frequently of the sort that requires strict privacy protections – is fundamental to the scientific advances our faculty and researchers make. In this connection, we have a proud tradition of taking great care to ensure that private data is housed safely and securely and is only used for scientific inquiry. As a result, our institution has developed reputations of respect and trust with regard to data-sharing, to the extent that government agencies and other entities feel comfortable regularly providing individual-level private data, including social security numbers, addresses, and medical and health information, for use by the University and its researchers. In support of scientific advancement in the field of energy economics, I request that the Commission similarly would allow our research institutions the ability to collaborate with utilities in order to access individual customer data for research purposes in a manner that ensures the highest data safety and security standards are met.

    Individual-level energy use and billing data have the potential to inform a wide array of scientific discoveries. Currently, University faculty seeks to use the data to better understand individuals’ behavior in response to variations in economic incentives around energy use and efficiency. A better understanding of individual energy use patterns and behavior can contribute to innovations in demand reduction, which could become an important mitigation strategy in response to the burning of fossil fuels for electricity production and the subsequent release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In this regard, access to individual level data by research institutions has the potential to contribute to the provision of public goods to the community, nation and globe.

    In order to ensure that the privacy of individual energy consumers is maintained, the University would negotiate a policy with utilities to implement the necessary data safety and security measures it already employs at other data centers it owns and operates on campus. The privacy policy might model that of Chapin Hall, a think tank operating at the University of Chicago, which houses all data with identifying information on an extra secure, password-protected server that is not connected to the Internet. Access to the data is limited to staff authorized to use data with identifying information, and only a dataset that is cleansed of identifiers is made available on the general server that allows remote access. Data may not be removed from the server for download to desktop, laptop, or any removable devices.

    It is my hope that the ICC will allow trusted third-party research institutions, such as universities, to access and utilize individual energy data, and in so doing, support advanced scientific research without risking the privacy of utility customers.

    The views expressed in this comment are my own, and do not represent the views of the University of Chicago. I would be happy to discuss any of these points with you further as you prepare to make a decision on Case 13-0506.


    Robert Rosner
    William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor
    Depts. of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Physics,
    Enrico Fermi Institute, Computation Institute, and
    Harris School of Public Policy Studies
    The University of Chicago

    Robert Rosner