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    Philadelphia Inquirer: Utilities’ smart meters save money, but erode privacy

    An interesting story from Philadelphia concerning “smart meters,” which track household utility use:

    Already, Peco is analyzing daily readings to spot thieves who intermittently bypass the meters and steal power. And experts looking at meter data can discern the telltale signs of illicit activity, such as a marijuana “grow house.”

    But the new generation of smart meters that Pennsylvania utilities are required to install will produce far more data, generating readings at least hourly. The meters could record material so frequently that power flows could be interpreted like DNA to reveal unique electrical signatures of individual appliances.

    Some experts imagine an Orwellian future in a carbon-constrained world, where consumers are cited for excessive electricity use, or divorce lawyers comb through meter records and ask: Who used the hot tub while the spouse was away? […]

    Last month, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission opened an inquiry into the privacy implications. Other states are expected to follow. […]

    [Elias Leake Quinn, a research analyst at the Center for Energy and Environmental Security in Boulder, Colo.,] recalled that in 2007, the day after Al Gore’s climate-change documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, received an Oscar, Tennessee political activists released the purloined electric billings for Gore’s Nashville mansion to embarrass him – his usage was nearly 20 times the national average.

    The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, in its smart-meter directive in June, acknowledged public concerns about keeping data secure. The PUC also said that it did not intend to preclude third parties from obtaining raw meter data “with customer consent.”

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