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New "Smart Meters" for Energy Use Put Privacy at Risk

SAN FRANCISCO - The ebb and flow of gas and electricity into your home contains
surprisingly detailed information about your daily life. Energy usage
data, measured moment by moment, allows the reconstruction of a
household's activities: when people wake up, when they come home, when
they go on vacation, and maybe even when they take a hot bath.

California's PG&E is currently in the process of installing
"smart meters" that will collect this moment by moment data—750 to 3000
data points per month per household—for every energy customer in the
state. These meters are aimed at helping consumers monitor and control
their energy usage, but right now, the program lacks critical privacy

That's why EFF and other privacy groups filed comments with the California Public Utilities Commission Tuesday, asking
for the adoption of strong rules to protect the privacy and security of
customers' energy-usage information. Without strong protections, this
information can and will be repurposed by interested parties. It's not
hard to imagine a divorce lawyer subpoenaing this information, an
insurance company interpreting the data in a way that allows it to
penalize customers, or criminals intercepting the information to plan a
burglary. Marketing companies will also desperately want to access this
data to get new intimate new insights into your family's day-to-day
routine–not to mention the government, which wants to mine the data for
law enforcement and other purposes.


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This isn't just a California issue. Many threats to the privacy of
the home—where our privacy rights should be strongest—were detailed in
a 2009 report
for the Colorado Public Utility Commission. The federal government has
been promoting the smart grid as part of its economic stimulus package,
and last year, EFF and other groups warned
the National Institute of Standards and Technology about the privacy
and security issues at stake. For example, security researchers worry that today’s smart meters and their communications networks are vulnerable to a variety of attacks. There are also questions of reliability,
as PG&E faces criticism from California customers who have seen
bills skyrocket after the installation of the new "smart meters."
Unsurprisingly, California legislators are questioning the rapid rollout. Texas customers are also complaining.

There are far more questions than answers when it comes to this new
technology. While it's potentially beneficial, it could also usher in
new intrusions into our home and private life. The states and the
federal government should ensure that energy customers get the
protection they deserve.


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EFF is the leading civil liberties group defending your rights in the digital world. EFF fights for freedom primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the US government or large corporations.

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