Aug 16, 2012
Despite all the advantages attributed to smart meters, not everyone seems to be happy about these new devices. As of last year, 47 municipal bodies in California issued moratoriums and bans against having smart meters installed in their jurisdiction. Much of the debate on the smart meter issue is due to the perceived threats these devices cause to security and health. Despite this brush off by the local government units, it appears that the utility companies still continue to install smart meters much to the outrage of consumer groups. Nevertheless, anti-smart meter groups scored a recent victory when the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) granted to consumers the option not to have a smart meter installed, subject to payment of interim fees.
Much has been said about the potential health risks that smart meters pose but not much has been discussed, however, about possible security risks. Due to the lack of cases on the matter, the Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches and searches is still unclear. Depending upon the manner that smart meters are presented to consumers, smart meter data may be protected from unauthorized access or disclosure. Nevertheless, even if the material may be protected by statute, it appears that law enforcers may still be able to access it for investigation purposes (God forbid without a warrant!)
According to the Department of Energy in a 2010 report, smart grid technology can generate “granular energy consumption data”. This is data about the pattern of energy use in a given household. This data can be an efficient way of increasing efficiency, trouble shoot and even lower overall cost because household devices and appliances that run on electricity consume energy in such a way that a sophisticated analyst with enough granular usage data could pinpoint each particular appliance or device based upon its contribution to the overall energy consumption. He can also determine if that contribution is consistent with an efficient operating appliance or device.
On the plus side, this information has the potential to help utilities and third party service providers to help consumers reduce energy consumption, significantly avoiding expensive repairs and breakdowns. It also reduces the complexity of running a modern household of complex and interactive devices and appliances.
On the down side, since this information could reveal detailed information about the activities of the household, the collection of this information has raised privacy issues because energy usage data and the ability to connect it with an individual are what make it particularly sensitive.
The data smart meters collect reveals information on which appliance a consumer is using has potential value for third parties, This includes the following:
For law enforcement agents, obtaining real time smart meter data on a consumer’s electric bill could mean their ability to monitor household activities, profoundly threatening the Fourth Amendment provision of the Constitution. If a consumer owned a plug-in electric vehicle, data taken from the location where the vehicle was charged could provide a driver’s location and travel history.
For health insurance companies, information that could reveal whether or not a person is using medical devices. Appliance manufacturers could establish whether or not a warranty was violated; marketers could use the information to target potential clients and criminals could use the information to time a robbery.
Privacy safety protocols like making data appear anonymous so as to protect the identity is not absolute. Any party interested in comparing anonymous data with information available at the public domain can easily identify an individual or household.
In the absence of federal legislation that mandates and delineates the safety protocols for consumers regarding information that can be acquired through smart meters, choosing to opt out and maintain your analog meter may be prudent choice. Information once leaked can no longer be retrieved or erased, and it only takes a window of opportunity for unscrupulous individuals to strike.
Having come at the end of the line, weighing the pros and cons is always a prudent course of action. The idea of potential savings in energy (and fewer dog bites) is a welcome development for homeowners. But is this opportunity worth doing away with your constitutional rights?
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This article was posted: Thursday, August 16, 2012 at 2:51 am