Smart Grid and Smart Meters Health, Privacy and Cybersecurity Issues:
Smart Meters Big Brother of Our Day
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The American Academy of Environmental Medicine advised on January 12, 2012 in a letter addressed to the Public Utilities Commission of the State of California that they opposed “the installation of wireless smart meters in homes and schools based on a scientific assessment of the current medical literature. Chronic exposure to wireless radiofrequency radiation is a preventable environmental hazard that is sufficiently well documented to warrant immediate preventative public health action.”
“Exposure to levels of radio frequency RF (3KHz-300GHz) and extremely low frequency ELF (300Hz) produced by smart meters warrants immediate and complete moratorium on their use and deployment until further study.”
The FCC guidelines that deem smart meters safe are obsolete because they study only “thermal tissue damage and overlook genetic and cellular effects, hormonal effects, male fertility, blood/brain barrier damage, and increased risk of certain types of cancer from RF and ELF levels similar to those emitted by smart meters.”
As each home becomes a “wireless telecommunications facility,” children are particularly at risk for altered brain development, impaired learning, and behavior.”
Current safety limits on pulsed RF are considered “not protective of public health” by the Radiofrequency Interagency Working Group (FDA, OSHA, EPA, FCC). Emissions of smart meters have been classified by the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a possible human carcinogen.
The Congressional Research Service and its legislative attorneys prepare reports for Congress on various issues. Two such reports were issued on smart meters. “Smart Meter Data: Privacy and Cybersecurity” was published on February 3, 2012 and “The Smart Grid and Cybersecurity – Regulatory Policy and Issues” was published on June 15, 2011.
The writers agreed, “unforeseen consequences under federal law may result from the installation of smart meters and the communications technologies that accompany them.” In addition, the information “generated from smart meters is a new frontier for police investigations.”
The Fourth Amendment requires police to have probable cause to search areas in which people have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Courts deny protection to information a customer gives to a business as part of their commercial relationship. Thus, police can access bank records, phone, and traditional utility records through the “third party doctrine.” Technology can erode an individual’s privacy even more.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 gave stimulus money to electric utilities to accelerate the deployment of smart meters
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 gave stimulus money to electric utilities to accelerate the deployment of smart meters to millions of homes via the Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Investment Grant Program. Developers thought that the old patchwork infrastructure did not interface, was an arcane system of electricity delivery, and had to be replaced by a nationwide system called the Smart Grid that could be easily controlled and manipulated from a central location.
Smart meter technology is part of the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). It records near-real time data on electricity usage, it transmits data to the Smart Grid, and it “receives communication from Smart Grid such as real-time energy prices, or remote commands that can alter a consumer’s electricity usage to facilitate demand response.”
In case you misunderstand what demand response is, here is the official definition. “Demand response is the reduction of the consumption of electric energy by customers in response to an increase in the price of electricity or heavy burdens on the system.” Notice that the reduction in consumption is not defined as voluntary when there is a heavy burden on the system, and it incorporates the promise by the President that our electricity prices will skyrocket.
Smart meters are designed to decrease peak demand for electricity by turning off electricity to customers by remote. Remotely controlled thermostats will also turn off air conditioning units.
HVAC contractors are required to install programmable thermostats on all systems in areas where city officials have inspection authority created by city councils. Thermostats can be overridden by the smart meter so that a home’s temperature can also be remotely controlled. RFID tracking tags will be gradually installed in all items purchased, including digital thermostats. Non-digital thermostats cannot be tracked and will thus be banned.
The Department of Energy used the $4.5 billion stimulus to reimburse up to 50 percent of smart grid investments, including the cost to electric utilities of buying and installing smart meters. As of September 2011, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) funded 7.2 million smart meters and partially 15.5 million. The Institute for Electric Efficiency (IEE) expects 65 million smart meters in operation by 2015.
The issues for those who generate, seek, or use the data recorded by smart meters are varied.
- Privacy of electronic communications
- Data storage
- Computer misuse
- Foreign surveillance
- Consumer protection
- Health issues
- Higher energy costs for consumers
- Solar flares
- Electromagnetic pulse (EMP)
The myriad of legal entanglements cannot be predicted. According to Richard J. Campbell, Specialist in Energy Policy, “It is unclear how Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizures would apply to smart meter data, due to the lack of cases on this issue.”
Smart meter technology measures usage as frequently as once every minute, which appliances a consumer is using, what time of day, if a residence is occupied, how many people reside there, if it’s occupied by more people than usual, daily schedules, including times when they are or away from home or asleep, if homes have alarm systems, if they own expensive electronic equipment such as plasma TVs, if they use certain types of medical equipment.” (Department of Energy)
Utility providers match data on electricity usage with “known appliance load signatures” and daily schedules by observing when residents use most electricity. U.S. v. Kyllo subpoenaed electricity spreadsheet records because they suspected an indoor marijuana growing operation. Imagine how much easier it would be today with smart meters.
According to Jeffrey Carr, “Health insurance companies could determine if a house uses certain medical devices and appliance manufacturers could establish if a warranty has been violated.”
Smart meters collect and store data on names, service address, billing information, networked appliances, meter IP address, transactional records, and identity of the transmitter. Data is sent to the grid via twisted–copper phone lines, cable lines, fiber optic cable, cellular, satellite, microwave, WiMAX, power line carrier, and broadband over power line. Wireless costs less but cybersecurity becomes a huge issue because data is stored within the grid and within the physical world.
Smart meters can give police access to eating, sleeping, showering habits, appliance use and when, TV use, and exercise equipment use take place. Does this uphold the Fourth Amendment that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”?
Liberties in the Constitution apply only to actions by the state and federal governments. Utilities can be privately owned, publicly owned, federally operated, and non-profit cooperatives. Under “public records theory, law enforcement can request smart meter data since public records are not afforded Fourth Amendment protection. Law enforcement access to state public records is unrestricted.” (Slobogin, Nilson v. Layton City)
Each state has different rules on whether utility records are public records. For example, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina consider a person’s utility records as public records.
“Third party doctrine,” words told to another person, informant, agent, gave police access to documents in the past such as phone, bank, cell phone, hotel records. Utility records were treated similarly, leaving room for smart meter records abuse.
Hackers could easily capture data from the outside with a hand-held device, sell the information to the highest bidder, or establish patterns in order to rob the house.
A court warrant should be required to access the data but neither the Supreme Court nor any lower federal court has ruled on the use of smart meters.
Perhaps people should think twice before they accept the $100 check offered by their utility companies in order to “save the planet” and reduce electric bills
Utilities may sell or share data obtained from smart meters with others in order to increase revenues. Utilities are monopolies and customers cannot switch providers in order to avoid the invasion of privacy. Electricity is a necessary component of modern life.
“Advancement of technology threatens to erode further the constitutional protection of privacy.” Individuals face a higher risk that activities inside their homes will be monitored by the government. (Congressional Research Service)
Perhaps people should think twice before they accept the $100 check offered by their utility companies in order to “save the planet” and reduce electric bills. Ask the Californians who have filed a class-action lawsuit against PG&E after smart meters were installed and their electric bills have skyrocketed. Is a small $100 bribe meant to help you or hurt you?