'SMART' METERS RAISE PRIVACY FEARS
- May 29, 2018 6:39 am GMT
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Should your power company know -- like Santa Claus -- when you are sleeping, and when you are awake?
When you are away on vacation? What kind of refrigerator you have and how old it is?
The meters have plenty of other upsides for customers: No more meter readers or estimated bills. No need to call when the power goes out. Customers can monitor their power use and get suggestions for energy-saving products and services.
But the improvements come with an array of concerns. Foremost among them is privacy.
The technology, critics say, makes it possible to pinpoint when residents are home and away, and may also reveal what devices and appliances are being used.
"Even sex toys," said
The smart meters are being rolled out at a time when there is growing concern about our devices' ability to spy on us. Enormous amounts of data are collected via smartphones. Laptop cameras are vulnerable to hacking. And recently, an Amazon Echo device recorded a couple's private conversation and sent it to an acquaintance of theirs.
In response to privacy concerns, the
"The information gathered from smart meters can also decipher what type of activities a customer is engaged in, such as watching television, using a computer, or how long someone spends cooking," according to the text of the bill.
Additionally, the bill says, information from the meters "includes unencrypted data that can reveal when a homeowner is away from their residence for long periods of time."
Rockland dismisses such concerns.
"Smart meters ... are safe, secure and reliable encrypted devices that will provide two-way, wireless communication between
The technology used to interpret energy use by the unique signals each appliance generates has the unwieldy name "nonintrusive appliance load monitoring."
"There are ... indications that they can tell what appliances you have, what types of television programs you are watching because each program has a unique light and dark pattern," Stanley said.
Electric cars take the surveillance potential one step further, according to
"Determining how much electricity was required to recharge an electric car, and extrapolating from that how far it had traveled, would seem to be a pretty simple matter," said Connizzo. "Put all this together with such devices as automated license plate readers, surveillance cameras, facial recognition technology, and you construct a detailed record of a person's movements and activities."
Who sees your data?
Who should have access to data generated by smart meters is already being debated in states where their installation is more advanced.
"The law extends the highest level of protection to the privacy of the home," Stanley said.
"However, there is something called the third-party doctrine, which says if you give information to a third party, it is no longer protected. So the question is: How are the utility companies going to use this information and protect it?"
Rockland's own privacy statement says they "may share information with third parties to permit them to send marketing communications or information about products and services."
Rockland says customers can choose not to share their information by unsubscribing from their customer information list. Dancer's bill would make such notice mandatory.
Sometimes, though, the sharing is obligatory, particularly with law enforcement armed with a subpoena. Police already issue subpoenas to power companies when investigating illicit activities in a neighborhood. By comparing energy use in a group of homes, for example, police can identify a home using high-power lights to grow marijuana in a basement.
Beyond privacy concerns, critics have pointed to other problems with the meters, including accuracy, cost-effectiveness and the potential health effects from radio waves.
Cost to consumers
Rockland projects the cost of installing smart meters throughout its service area at
"They are replacing a meter that lasts 20-40 years with one whose technology becomes obsolete," Brand said. "We're still paying for the old meters, plus the new meter. That adds to the cost."
Brand said there are "other technologies that could be put on the wires that are a lot cheaper."
"The question is: What are we getting for our money?" Brand said.
According to the
Rockland's installation was approved by the state's
"Rockland is the only company authorized to install smart meters and infrastructure in
"The smart-meter rollout has been extremely positive," Donovan said. "Customers are anxious to receive their smart meter and start to see the benefits it provides."
Customers who do not want the smart meters must notify
Customers who opt out of the smart-meter installation will be charged