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    New York Times: New Electricity Meters Stir Fears

    There has been increasing concern about “smart grids” and how they affect individual privacy. “Smart grids” are the case where utilities would be able to collect granular data about consumers’ energy consumption — down to the daily electricity use by the fridge in your kitchen or the TV in your bedroom.

    I’ve spoken about the privacy issues connected with smart grids and smart meters before, and there has been much focus on the technology. An October 2010 Department of Energy report, Data Access and Privacy Issues Related to Smart Grid Technologies (pdf), “focuses on how legal and regulatory regimes are evolving to protect consumer privacy and choice […] In addition, it found that to protect privacy, consumers should be able to choose whether to affirmatively opt in to any non-utility, third-party use of their energy-usage data through a secure and trustworthy process. Flexibility and education were also found to be critical to making Smart Grid widely successful.” The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, a subgroup of NIST’s Cyber Security Working Group, released in 2010 Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security: Vol. 2, Privacy and the Smart Grid (pdf). And the Ontario Privacy Commissioner published a June 2010 report (pdf) that outlines best practices for embedding privacy in smart grid systems.

    Now, the New York Times reports on privacy questions concerning smart grid technology in California:

    Pacific Gas and Electric’s campaign to introduce wireless smart meters in Northern California is facing fierce opposition from an eclectic mix of Tea Party conservatives and left-leaning individualists who say the meters threaten their liberties and their health. […]

    Since 2006, PG&E has installed more than seven million of the devices, which transmit real-time data on customers’ use of electricity. But in Santa Cruz County, south of San Jose, the Board of Supervisors recently extended a yearlong moratorium on installations. Officials in Marin County, north of San Francisco, approved a ban this month on meters in unincorporated, largely rural areas, where about a quarter of its population lives. […]

    The new wave of protests comes from conservatives and individualists who view the monitoring of home appliances as a breach of privacy, as well as from a cadre of environmental health campaigners who see the meters’ radio-frequency radiation — like emissions from cellphones and other common devices — as a health threat. […]

    Although there is scientific data on the health concerns, the privacy worries can be answered only by assurances from the utility. And the groups most concerned about privacy — like the local Tea Party affiliate, the North Bay Patriots — tend to have little faith in corporate assurances.

    One Response to “New York Times: New Electricity Meters Stir Fears”

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