Privacy is a ‘Cause for Concern’ with Smart Meters

by K.T. Weaver, SkyVision Solutions 

Big Data Privacy IssuesWGN News in Chicago recently did a news story about smart meters [1].  The broadcast was primarily focused on the biased theme of “What’s Slowing the Savings on Smart Meters?”  This makes the naïve presumption that there are savings to eventually be gained with smart meters as customers pay additional dollars each month to have them installed.

However, there was some truth in the story that was somewhat glossed over on the subject of privacy.  In an interview with a CEO of an energy start-up company, Mark Handy stated:

The idea that you are now giving access to a granular amount of data about your consumption of energy and potentially about your activities is a cause for most people to be concerned.”

In response to the above, the reporter added that:

“If you think about it, a smart meter could potentially make it easy to figure out when you are home, how many people live there, changes in routines.”

Above is an excerpt from a WGN News story on smart meters; captions and images have been added as a form of commentary; the video contains material used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine under 17 U.S.C. 107 and is presented in the public’s interest for non-commercial purposes.

While the WGN News story primarily discusses smart meter data distribution issues, why allow the collection of “granular data” in the first place without your permission?  The data collection is not necessary for the delivery of electrical service and is not required for billing purposes.  The indiscriminate collection of this granular energy usage data unnecessarily invades your privacy.

Furthermore, the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act [2] states the following:

(815 ILCS 505/2HH) Sec. 2HH. Billing and collection practices of electric service providers.

“Each person selling generation, transmission, distribution, metering, or billing of electric service shall display the name, the toll-free telephone number of such service provider, and a description of the services provided on all bills submitted to subscribers of such services.  All personal information relating to the subscriber of generation, transmission, distribution, metering, or billing of electric service shall be maintained by the service providers solely for the purpose of generating the bill for such services, and shall not be divulged to any other persons with the exception of credit bureaus, collection agencies, and persons licensed to market electric service in the State of Illinois, without the written consent of the subscriber.”  (Source: P.A. 90-561, eff. 12-16-97.)

How can the utility company justify collection of personal information (which includes metering/ usage information and data) for a purpose that is not solely for the purpose of generating the bill?

This question is particularly relevant for ComEd since in 2014 documents [3] were submitted by the company to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) that stated:

“The Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act requires that an electric service provider maintain customers’ personal information ‘solely for the purpose of generating the bill for such services’.  This requirement will not change under ComEd’s AMI plan.” [emphasis added]

In addition, in a “Fact Sheet” intended for public consumption [4], ComEd states:

“ComEd complies with the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, which provides that an electric service provider shall maintain customers’ personal information ‘solely for the purpose of generating the bill for such services’ …”

Is ComEd adhering to its representations to the ICC and to the public?  I don’t think so.

Privacy is a definite ‘cause for concern’ with smart meters as well as a ‘right’.  Smart meters collect granular data not necessary for the delivery of electrical service or for billing purposes.  Analyzing that data and mining that data can reveal intimate details about you and your family’s lives.  Granular data should not be collected without your permission or can only be collected and maintained to the extent necessary for billing purposes.  In the state of Illinois, that is the law as it should be everywhere.

References

[1] “What’s slowing the savings on ‘Smart Meters?’,” at http://wgntv.com/2015/05/11/whats-slowing-the-savings-on-smart-meters/

[2]  (815 ILCS 505/2HH); Sec. 2HH. Billing and collection practices of electric service providers; refer to http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=2356&ChapterID=67

[3]  Refer to pages 79 and 80 of Exhibit 1.01, Part 2, for Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) Docket Case Number 14-0212, ComEd Filing for March 13, 2014; refer to Documents at:  http://www.icc.illinois.gov/docket/files.aspx?no=14-0212&docId=210863.

[4]  Refer to the bottom of page 1 of the ComEd “Fact Sheet” on Privacy at:  http://wp.me/a3nav9-314

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About SkyVision Solutions

Raising public awareness and finding solutions for smart grid issues related to invasions of privacy, data security, cyber threats, health and societal impacts, as well as hazards related to radiofrequency (RF) radiation emissions from all wireless devices, including smart meters.
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