Notice of plans to erect…another big database

This privacy notice went past in my twitter stream earlier.

It announces that the UK government is planning to create a new database that will some quite detailed data about every electricity meter in the UK. In particular it’ll combine together information about the meter, the energy consumption and billing details associated with that energy supply and detailed information about the personal paying those bills.

Apparently it’s intended to help support fraud prevention around the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) Scheme.

Unsurprisingly there’s not a great deal of detail beyond a broad outline of the data to be aggregated. But it looks to be a database that will consist of data about all meters, not just smart meters. And, while it says “each and every electricity and gas meter”, I suspect they actually mean every domestic meter.

The database will also apparently contain data about electricity consumption. But not gas? (I suspect that’s an oversight). It’s unclear what granularity of consumption it’ll contain, but I’d hazard that it’ll be daily, monthly or quarterly rather than detailed half-hourly readings.

Reading the notice, my big unanswered question was: OK, but why build a new database?

Specifically, what are the technical requirements of the service to be built around that data, that means that it needs to be held in one big database?

The UK’s smart metering data infrastructure was designed to avoid having a single big database. So why do that here?

Is it really easier to merge and aggregate all this data into one pot than, say carry out some kind of integration with the data already held in energy company systems?

It probably is easier to aggregate. And it’ll probably be easier to build a system around that, than a bunch of loosely joined parts.

But, given the the government’s own desire to have a “digital spine” to support sharing data across energy companies. Or key elements of its own data strategy, shouldn’t it be considering all of the options?

And maybe it has. That’s the problem with privacy notices: they just give you the results of a decision. The decision to process some data. We get no insight into why it needs to be done in this specific way. Even though building trust starts with being transparent from the start.

I found myself thinking about planning notices rather than privacy notices. And then remembered that Dan Hon had written about this recently.

In a world where we have some increasingly sophisticated means of securely sharing data, without it having to be moved around. Tell me why you need to build another great big database, rather than any of those other solutions.