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.

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

The Maine Supreme Court recently upheld a state agency’s dismissal of a privacy challenge to the installation of smart meter technology in Maine homes and businesses.  Smart meters use wireless technology to collect and transmit data to utility companies about how and when customers use electricity. While smart grid advocates argue that the use of smart meters will promote energy efficiency and customer savings, privacy advocates have raised concerns about the nature of the data that is collected. In Friedman v. Public Utilities Commission et al., Maine consumers argued, inter alia, that a utility company’s collection of information via smart meters represented a violation of the Fourth Amendment, that the Maine Public Utilities Commission had not adequately considered their privacy concerns, and that utilities could not impose extra fees on customers who opt out of using a smart meter.

The Commission issued two orders in mid-2011 requiring that the Central Maine Power Company (CMP) provide customers with an option to opt out of smart meter installation.  However, under the Commission’s order, consumers who opted out would be subject to extra fees, including an initial charge and recurring monthly charges. The plaintiffs in Friedman filed a complaint with the Commission, expressing privacy and Fourth Amendment concerns, and challenging the charges on consumers who opted out of using smart meters as a “discriminatory action against those with legitimate privacy and trespass concerns.”  The Commission dismissed these claims without a hearing, finding that it had already investigated and addressed the consumers’ concerns in response to prior complaints.  Plaintiffs appealed to the state supreme court.

Continue Reading Maine Supreme Court Upholds Dismissal of Smart Meter Privacy Challenge

As states are initiating docket proceedings related to smart meter privacy and passing privacy protection legislation to regulate utility providers utilizing smart meters, it is interesting to note how one utility provider has taken steps towards protecting consumer privacy. 

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is a utility provider based in southern California.  California has been one of the most active states in the country in proactively regulating the protection of smart grid consumer data.  So SDG&E has sought to address the regulatory and consumer concerns by adopting Privacy by Design with respect to its smart meter programs.

This blog has previously covered the FTC’s adoption of Privacy by Design as a central component of its recent privacy report.  The premise underlying Privacy by Design is that companies will better protect consumer data privacy if they fully incorporate safeguards and a culture of respecting privacy into the early stages of operations, rather than simply responding to legislation and regulations.

Continue Reading Privacy by Design for smart meters