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Inside Privacy Updates on Developments in Global Privacy & Data Security from Covington & Burling LLP

Smart Grid Advocacy Group Seeks to Refute Privacy and Data Security Concerns

Posted in Smart Meters

The Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) recently published a fact sheet and released a web video to refute privacy and data security critiques of smart meter technology.  SGCC is a non-profit that seeks “to advance the adoption of a reliable, efficient, and secure smart grid.” Its membership includes electric utility and technology companies, universities, government agencies, and environmental advocacy groups.  Privacy and data security concerns have led some consumers to oppose the installation of smart meters, and even inspired lawsuits in states such as Maine and Illinois.  SGCC’s recently published materials suggest that many of these concerns are based on “myths” and “urban legend.”

Smart meter privacy concerns generally focus on the amount and type of data that smart meters collect from the homes or businesses where they are installed.  Some consumers are concerned that, by recording detailed information about electricity consumption, smart meters will provide electric utility companies with substantial information about their private activities. The SGCC fact sheet seeks to address these concerns, asserting that “[s]mart meters measure how much energy you use, based on time of day, not how you use that energy.”  A consumer would need to have a home energy management system installed to enable more detailed data collection about whether a specific appliance is being used.  Other consumer groups have expressed concern that utility companies will sell the personal information that they collect from consumers.  SGCC refutes this concern by arguing that “[u]tilities adhere to strict policies, following state laws that regulate the use of personal information for business functions like billing and customer service.”  Utilities already have considerable information on electricity consumption which they do not sell, and the introduction of smart meters will not change this.

Consumer data security concerns focus on the fact that this detailed information may be susceptible to cyberattacks.  Even if consumers trust that electric utility companies will not intentionally disclose their information, others may be concerned about it being accessed by hackers or otherwise subject to data breaches. SGCC seeks to alleviate these concerns by citing industry efforts and the use of “advanced security and encryption technology to safeguard data.”

SGCC acknowledges that smart meters and smart grid technology “have a reputation problem.” This reputation problem has led some utility companies to proactively address privacy and data security concerns.  As we previously wrote, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has incorporated Privacy by Design into its smart meter program, which includes notifying consumers about the data that it collects from smart meters and requiring opt-in consent for certain types of data collection.  Similar privacy measures may alleviate consumer concerns and reduce privacy-based opposition to the installation of smart meters as utility companies continue to adopt smart grid technology.