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Smart Meters, A Violation of Privacy?

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Nevelyn Black's picture
Writer Independent

Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

  • Member since 2017
  • 875 items added with 506,602 views
  • Jan 14, 2022

A White Castle employee is suing the burger chain for sharing her biometrics to a third party without her consent.  The restaurant installed a fingerprint scan for employees to access registers and computers but failed to get signed consent from employees.  Now the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will hear the question about whether her privacy was violated in connection with the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). 

With so many network breaches that leak precious data, it's clear, privacy laws need an overhaul.  From video doorbells to smart meters, there is a growing concern about protection and privacy for users, customers and employees. Ring doorbells by Amazon came under fire in the past for potentially leaking Wi-Fi usernames and passwords to hackers.  Anything connected to your network can weaken your security, whether at home or at work. 

Utility companies are collecting data from smart meters to enhance operations and efficiency.   Smart devices routinely collect data on occupants, such as behaviors. This data can be used to determine home occupancy or home vacancy. Smart meter data reveals time schedules of electrical usage in minute increments, which indicate other factors, including habits. If organizations or bad actors can determine personal information from collected data and misuse that information, it becomes a violation of privacy.  Dominion Energy received approval for a large-scale rollout of smart meters after being rejected 3 times since 2018.  However, the Virginia State Corporation Commission’s concerns were monetary not ethical. The commissioners said they believed the potential benefits of Dominion’s proposed smart meter rollout were “too speculative and uncertain for the commission to choose to approve such a large expenditure at this time, the large costs of which impact Dominion’s customers.”  Dominion went back to the drawing board and this time present the commission with answers to their questions.  Augustus Johnson, Dominion’s director of electric distribution grid solutions “we’ll be able to offer all of our customers faster storm service connections, greater information and options to manage their usage and bill and streamline the integration of distributed energy resources like solar panels and battery storage at their homes,” he said.  The project will cost $198.3 million and will replace 250,000 to 300,000 existing non-smart meters.  Overall, state regulators are supporting smart meters and the average penetration is above 50 percent in all customer classes.  With the rise in smart meter deployments, utilities will have to ensure data security.

Incidentally, the majority of voters, 56 percent, back a national data privacy law, according to new polling from Morning Consult and Politico. A proposal to make it illegal for social media companies to use personal data to recommend content via algorithms received bipartisan approval. Facebook parent company, Meta Platforms Inc.’s spokesperson said, "For many years, we’ve advocated for Congress to pass federal privacy legislation and hope 2022 will finally be the year our nation’s privacy rules are updated.”  The spokesperson added, “Even without federal action, we’ll continue building privacy-protective products and tools that give people more control of their data while providing them with free, personalized services.”

With so many companies setting up remote access to their networks for employees, the outcome of class action suit, Cothron vs. White Castle could create a problem for businesses and an uptick in BIPA lawsuits.  As for utilities, they’ll need to tighten security on the data collected by smart meters to keep customers safe.  With federal privacy laws on the horizon, how can utility companies prepare now for stricter regulations? In the meantime, double check your firewall.


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