Smart meters are a threat to customers privacy

Holly New

The decision to use smart meters may not be as smart as you think.

Smart meters are, as defined by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “electric meters with enhanced communication capabilities…. These meters use two-way communication to connect utilities and their customers.”

Sounds like a piece of very useful technology, right? Many think so. The EIA reported that at the end of 2011, more than 23 percent of electric customers had smart meters, which equates to about 33 million customers.

However, there seems to be a frightening side to this story.

Electric customers are being forced to use smart meters whether they want to or not. Melissa Jenco and Matthew Walberg of the Chicago Tribune wrote of Jennifer Stahl, a woman from Naperville who refused an electric company worker access to her meter in order to install a smart meter and was subsequently arrested.

The Blaze reported on Feb. 9 of Brenda Hawk, an Ohio woman who refused to have a smart meter installed and had her electricity turned off in the middle of winter. As her basement flooded (a sump pump cannot work without electricity), Hawk suffered as she requires breathing assistance equipment to sleep. Her electricity was turned back on only after concerned citizens flooded the state capital and senior service agencies with calls on her behalf.

Pennsylvania is leading the way in terms of enforcing use of smart meters. Craig Smith of reported on Feb. 9 that Pennsylvania has required all large electric utilities to install smart meters, and “expects to install 6 million smart meters over the next 15 years.”

A little closer to home, ComEd states on its website that “Over the next 10 years (through 2022), all customers will receive a smart meter, which collects usage information hourly and automatically sends it to ComEd through a two-way wireless communications connection.”

Freedom of choice apparently doesn’t extend to our electricity.

Why are so many people against the use of smart meters? There is a level of control that smart meters can have over electricity. One model, the OpenWay meter, has a switch that, according to its manufacturer Itron, “can be operated on demand, or automatically as part of a service-limiting configuration”–a fancy way of saying that power can be cut off remotely. Spooky.

Another fear, as Christina Nunez of National Geographic wrote, is that “In theory, the information collected by smart meters could reveal how many people live in a home, their daily routines, changes in those routines, what types of electronic equipment are in the home, and other details.”

What information are we freely giving away, and at what point do we allow ease to cross over into a threat of control?

Smart meters are simply another threat to privacy and freedom of choice. When consumers aren’t allowed to decide what equipment is put in their homes, it becomes a problem. Be aware of what’s to come, because it’s only a matter of time until the electric company will come knocking on your door.