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Your Smart Electricity Meter Can Easily Spy On You, Court Ruling Warns

Published: August 24, 2018
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Flickr user Eli Christman

 

Consumers already face a laundry list of daily privacy issues ranging from Facebook’s failure to police how user data is abused, to ISPs that routinely track your every online movement down to the millisecond.

But another, less talked about privacy problem has slowly been gaining steam: the modern, electrical utility smart meter.

Modern electricity usage meters provide innumerable benefits to utility companies, including a variety of remote access and monitoring tools to better manage the power grid. They also dramatically reduce the cost of technician visits for on-location meter readings.

The benefits to consumers have been less impressive, however. Some models have been found to interfere with some home routers, and, like so many internet-connected devices, other variants are easily hacked.

But these devices also collect an ocean of private customer data, including detailed information that can be used to infer when you wake, when you sleep, and when you’re at home or away. In the past, electricity meters delivered a lump monthly figure to utilities, but smart meters transmit data in granular detail, often in increments ranging from fifteen minutes to every few hours.

This in turn has sparked concern from locals in places like Naperville, Illinois, where, since 2011, one citizen group has been fighting the intrusive nature of the devices.

Under the name Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, citizens sued the city over a policy mandating that all city residents must have smart meters installed by the local city-owned power utility. In their lawsuit, they argued that the city’s smart meter data collection violated their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

This week, the group notched a notable win when the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Fourth Amendment does in fact protect energy-consumption data collected by smart meters. The ruling leans heavily on the Kyllo v. United States precedent that declared the use of thermal imaging tech to monitor citizens without a warrant also violates the Fourth Amendment.

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