What are the privacy concerns and risks?

Fundamentally, smart grid systems will be multi-directional communications and energy transfer networks that enable electricity service providers, consumers, or third party energy management assistance programs to access consumption data. Further, if plans for national or transnational electric utility smart grid systems proceed as currently proposed these far reaching networks will enable data collection and sharing across platforms and great distances.

A list of potential privacy consequences of Smart Grid systems include:

  1. Identity Theft
  2. Determine Personal Behavior Patterns
  3. Determine Specific Appliances Used
  4. Perform Real-Time Surveillance
  5. Reveal Activities Through Residual Data
  6. Targeted Home Invasions (latch key children, elderly, etc.)
  7. Provide Accidental Invasions
  8. Activity Censorship
  9. Decisions and Actions Based Upon Inaccurate Data
  10. Profiling
  11. Unwanted Publicity and Embarrassment
  12. Tracking Behavior Of Renters/Leasers
  13. Behavior Tracking (possible combination with Personal Behavior Patterns)
  14. Public Aggregated Searches Revealing Individual Behavior

Our personal energy usage will be tracked by means of a wireless signal into our homes, and the data will then be forwarded wirelessly, 24/7, to a third party for “energy management.”  In addition, neighboring meters will be in constant communication with one another (this is known as chattering).  The technology is already in place to track our energy use with still greater precision by means of sensors attached to each of our appliances which will communicate our energy usage to the Smart Meter. Utilities boast that with Smart Meters, they will be better able to make recommendations as to our energy usage.  But incidentally, utility companies will also be able to track data about our personal lives.

For example, utility companies will know when we are out of town and when we return; when we are using our washing machine or watching a DVD.

With this detailed system in place, much of the rhythm of our lives and our choices will become available for sharing and possible marketing purposes.

Some utilities state they have no intention of marketing this data at the present time, and they will ensure its safety.  But the point is that the data should never have been collected in the first place.  It’s like a thief that breaks into your home and steals your jewels and then says he will keep them safe for you.

A wireless Smart Meter will make it quite simple for people to hack into our banking and personal correspondences. Smart Meters also have a shut-off switch which further facilitates hacking.  This switch is an essential part of the Smart Grid as it is used to manage our usage or to shut off service when deemed necessary.  Eventually, BGE and Pepco will be able to fully control our usage if they so choose. At peak hours we can be charged more (time of use pricing) thereby increasing their overall revenues.  Or, the reverse, as BGE is currently marketing the meters, there will be “incentives” to use appliances at off hours, leaving the rest of us paying more if we do not wish to make the adjustment.

Invasion of Privacy

Since these consumer profiles are so detailed, it amounts to real time surveillance.  Smart meter data can tell when you are asleep or awake; whether if you are home or away; if you are running a small business out of your home; how many people are in your house at any one time; if you have expensive electronic equipment; whether or not your home alarm system is activated; and ultimately, specific appliance data such as the type of oven you have, how old it is, and when you use it.

This contravenes our constitutional rights to a reasonable expectation of privacy.  One example of how contradictory this is, consider medical privacy and HIPPA.  There is so much emphasis on maintaining the privacy of our medical records, yet, HIPPA requires only that the health care provider and insurance companies protect patient data from disclosure to third parties.  Utility companies could legally disclose our personal electricity profiles with medical equipment use specifics to health insurance companies or other organizations.

For example, from the data Smart Meters collect, one will be able to ascertain what medical equipment each household operates.  While this is probably not a violation of HIPAA, per se, since BGE and Pepco are not health care providers, it does stand all the HIPAA protections on their head. For if the law does not permit personal medical information to be disclosed by our health care providers, why would we entrust this sensitive information to our utility company?

Invasive Marketers

The sale of your private information does not require the utility company to obtain your permission.  Smart meter customer energy profiles become the property of the utility company and can be sold to interested third parties without the customer’s consent.  The potential revenue for sales of this personal data to appliance manufacturers, law enforcement, marketers, health insurance companies and a myriad of other business represents a massive revenue stream for utility companies.

Businesses can then analyze your electricity usage information, in real time, right down to the device and couple that information with other data transmissions or even services you pay for – such as cable TV, Internet, alarm system monitoring, etc.

Imagine your insurance company raising your rates because you forgot to set your home alarm system a small percentage of the time.  Sound far fetched?  Not really.  They can implement such a system relatively inexpensively by writing a little program that compares your electricity usage with your alarm monitoring service you pay for each month.

Also troubling is that your private detailed information is not necessary for accurate billing nor implementation of the smart grid, which begs the question: What’s the real agenda here?

Increased Risk of Criminal Activity

Criminals (burglars, vandals, abusive partners, etc) can identify patterns of activity in your home to determine when your on vacation.

Skilled hackers could gain access to your electricity profile and match it to other personal data, including financial data.

Law Enforcement

Officers are required by law to obtain a search warrant to access meter data from your utility company, just as with any other property search.  Unfortunately, those protections do not apply to data revealed to third parties.

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