PRESS RELEASE: Privacy International & the Electronic Frontier Foundation Raise Concerns About Privacy Implications of Smart Meter Data In Newly Filed Brief
- Today, Privacy International (“PI”) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”) have filed an amicus brief in the case of Naperville Smart Meter Awareness v. City of Naperville before the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
- PI and EFF argue that usage data from smart electricity meters differs quantitatively and qualitatively from analog electricity meters, revealing intimate details regarding a person’s private in-home activities.
- PI and EFF argue that an Illinois District Court’s decision that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in aggregate electrical usage data, regardless of whether the data is collected by a smart meter or analog meter, is flawed and that the Court’s decision should be reversed.
- The European Union aims to deploy smart meters in 80% of households by 2020, raising many of the same privacy concerns implicated in this case.
Today, Privacy International, alongside the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is planning to file an amicus brief in the case of Naperville Smart Meter Awareness v. City of Naperville before the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. The brief argues that usage data from smart electricity meters differs quantitatively and qualitatively from analog electricity meters. While analog meters provide a single monthly read of cumulative household energy use (a single data point), smart meters typically collect data in 5, 15, 30 or 60-minute intervals. This level of granularity provides detailed information regarding how much energy is actually being used within a house at any given time. Thus, even in aggregate, raw form, smart meter data reveals intimate information regarding a person or family’s in-home activities.
Patterns generated by smart meter data can be used to infer how many individuals reside in a home as well as their activities, habits, and rhythms of movement, including when they leave their home and when they go to sleep. Smart meter data can even reveal which appliances are functioning at a given time, allowing one to infer, for example, when residents consume meals, take showers, watch TV, and use exercise equipment.
PI and EFF argue that an Illinois District Court’s decision, which held there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in aggregate electrical usage data, regardless of whether the data is collected from a smart meter or analog meter, is flawed and should be reversed.
Privacy International recently produced a 3-minute video which provides an overview of privacy risks with regards to smart devices, including smart meters. https://privacyinternational.org/node/1037
Smart meters in USA
In 2015, roughly 65 million smart meters were installed across the United States, with 88% of them, over 57 million, in homes of American consumers. More than 40 percent of American households currently have a smart meter, and experts predict that number will reach 80% by 2020. Recent studies show that Americans are particularly sensitive about data tied to their homes and expect privacy in the details of their day-to-day activities.
Smart meters in Europe
In the EU, a Directive mandates that 80% of household shall have smart meters by 2020. It is estimated that a total of 200 million smart electricity meters will be deployed by 2020, bringing the EU’s smart meter population to approximately 240 million. The European Data Protection Supervisor has warned that smart meters may “enable massive collection of personal data” and recommends that Member States provide adequate safeguards.
Privacy International Legal Officer Scarlet Kim said:
“The transition from analog meters to smart meters — from a single monthly reading of energy usage to thousands of data points per month — transforms a blunt record of kilowatts consumed into a deeply personal snapshot of a person’s life. The data protection and privacy implications of collecting this data are not confined to Illinois but resonate around the world. Smart meter deployments are shifting from North America to Europe with Asia and Latin America not far behind. The legal regimes in each country may be different, but as with the rapid adoption of most technology, existing safeguards may be inadequate to protect against these new intrusions into our private lives. Governments seeking to roll out smart meters must therefore ensure that the privacy of energy consumers is correspondingly protected.”
Electronic Frontier Foundation Staff Attorney Jamie Williams said:
“Smart meter data reveals intimate details about what is going on inside the home. The lower court made false assumptions about how smart meter technology works, and its decision is a threat to the privacy of the 57 million and counting American homes with this new technology.”