The Seventh Circuit just handed down a landmark opinion, ruling 3-0 that the Fourth Amendment protects energy-consumption data collected by smart meters. Smart meters collect energy usage data at high frequencies—typically every 5, 15, or 30 minutes—and therefore know exactly how much electricity is being used, and when, in any given household. The court recognized that data from these devices reveals intimate details about what’s going on inside the home that would otherwise be unavailable to the government without a physical search. The court held that residents have a reasonable expectation of privacy in this data and that the government’s access of it constitutes a “search.”
This case, Naperville Smart Meter Awareness v. City of Naperville, is the first case addressing whether the Fourth Amendment protects smart meter data. Courts have in the past held that the Fourth Amendment does not protect monthly energy usage readings from traditional, analog energy meters, the predecessors to smart meters. The lower court in this case applied that precedent to conclude that smart meter data, too, was unprotected as a matter of law. On appeal, EFF and Privacy International filed an amicus brief urging the Seventh Circuit to reconsider this dangerous ruling. And in its decision, released last week, the Seventh Circuit wisely recognized that smart meters and analog meters are different:
"Using traditional energy meters, utilities typically collect monthly energy consumption in a single lump figure once per month. By contrast, smart meters record consumption much more frequently, often collecting thousands of readings every month. Due to this frequency, smart meters show both the amount of electricity being used inside a home and when that energy is used.”
The Seventh Circuit recognized that this energy usage data “reveals information about the happenings inside a home.” Individual appliances, the court explained, have distinct energy-consumption patterns or “load signatures.” These load signatures allow you to tell not only when people are home, but what they are doing. The court held that the “ever-accelerating pace of technological development carries serious privacy implications” and that smart meters “are no exception.”
This is critical precedent. Last year, roughly 65 million smart meters had been installed in the United States in recent years, with 88% of them—over 57 million—in homes of American consumers; more than 40% of American households had a smart meter. Experts predict that number will reach about 80% by 2020. And law enforcement agencies are already trying to get access to data from energy companies without a warrant.
A word of advice, when you see a new program come along with a name that contains a word like "Smart" or "Community", put up your guard and hang onto your wallet.
Wind is potentially an electric grid keeper's worst nightmare because the grid keeper must match electrical supply with electrical demand, and erratic wind holds too many surpises. For example, the whole state of Maine could be experiencing strong winds and then rather suddenly, the wind dies down.
When the supply can't be depended upon as it can with a source like natural gas, an alternate way to match up supply and demand is to control the demand. Enter the smart meter.
"A smart grid would allow the integration of variable energy sources like wind and solar. For example, if electricity output dropped suddenly due to a change in wind generation, the grid could dim the lights in big box stores by 20%, a change most people don't perceive, say Don Von Dollen, program manager for the IntelliGrid project at the Electric Power Research Institute".
The more you learn about the so called smart meter, including its demand-regulating role within "central planning's" grand vision, the more it smarts. You don't really need that air conditioner on just because it's 95 degrees and humid and you are trying to sleep, now do you?