Today the San Francisco Chronicle confirmed utilities are giving customers smart meter data to the government and third parties.  Reporter David Baker writes, “Phone records and e-mail aren’t the only kinds of personal data that government agencies can collect on Americans.  They can look at your home’s energy use, too.  And that information can be revealing.”

Smart meters are a surveillance tool, best described by Jerry Day in this video– which has reached over 1.7 million viewers.  And now we have proof that if you have a smart meters on your home, your privacy: what you do in your home, or if your not home, when you cook, watch TV, or  if you get up in the middle of the night is provided to third parties for “legal” purposes when requested.  The smart meter data when analyzed  shows a detailed pattern of your life.

The Northern California ACLU writes, “transparency reports filed by the California utilities companies and obtained by the ACLU of California show that a significant amount of data about the energy use of Californians is also ending up in the hands of third parties.  In 2012, a single California utility company, San Diego Gas & Electric, disclosed the smart meter energy records of over 4,000 of its customers. “

The “privacy” rules, adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allows disclosure of smart meter data for legal purposes, or pursuant to situations of imminent threat to life or property.  San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) disclosed the records of 4,062 customers. PG&E disclosed 86 and SCE disclosed one.

“In 4,000 of those [SDGE] cases, the information was subpoenaed by government agencies, often in drug enforcement cases or efforts to find specific individuals, according to the utility. The other 62 disclosures came as the result of subpoenas in civil lawsuits. Some of the released information focused solely on billing information, account addresses and other data that could be used to locate an individual.” David Baker- SF Chronicle

According to the ACLU “a single legal request can potentially result in the disclosure of millions of customers’ records.”


Calif. utilities yield energy-use data

By David R. Baker  Wednesday, June 19, 2013


The American Civil Liberties Union, which publicized the disclosures Wednesday, warned that energy-use information represents one more way for government agencies to peer into Americans’ lives. The release comes in the wake of recent disclosures about how the National Security Agency uses cell phone “metadata” and other personal electronic records when investigating national security threats.

“This is another situation where there’s a lot of data being collected that can reveal very private details,” said Nicole Ozer, the union’s technology policy director.


How private? New digital smart meters being installed throughout the state can measure a home’s energy use hour by hour, showing when residents leave for work, go to sleep or travel on vacation. Older analog meters, which measured cumulative energy use over the course of a month, couldn’t do that.

“Before smart meters, what happened inside houses couldn’t be revealed unless there was a police officer inside with a warrant,” Ozer said.

However, it remains unclear how often government agencies look at usage data in that level of detail. For example, a memo that SDG&E submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission says the company provided federal drug enforcement agents with energy “consumption” data on 2,672 customers last year, but doesn’t delve into specifics about the data itself.

A PG&E spokesman said all of his company’s data disclosures followed state regulations, although he did not have details on who had requested the information.

“They were all court-approved subpoenas, which we’re obliged to respond to,” said PG&E spokesman Jason King.

Privacy concerns have helped fuel resistance to smart meters, which are being installed by utilities across the country.

Opponents have focused most of their attention on the possible health threat posed by smart meters that transmit data over the airwaves, using the same technology as mobile phones and laptop computers. Whether wireless technology can cause illness remains a fiercely debated topic.

But meter critics have also warned that the devices give utilities, and potentially government agencies, an unwanted window into the home. “It’s a form of surveillance,” said Sandi Maurer, founder of the EMF Safety Network and a staunch smart meter critic. “If someone analyzes the data coming from smart meters, they can tell when you’re home, when you’re cooking a meal, when you’re watching TV.”

The California Public Utilities Commission in 2011 adopted rules governing when utilities can disclose customer information gleaned through smart meters. In general, the data are considered private. But a subpoena, court order or warrant can pry it loose. Law enforcement agencies can obtain the information as part of an investigation. But so can attorneys in a lawsuit, provided they get court approval first.

Law enforcement agencies have often sought the help of utilities during investigations. For example, energy-use records can help police spot marijuana grow houses, which consume far more electricity than homes.

Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network watchdog group, said the sheer number of data disclosures made by SDG&E raised the possibility that government agencies wanted to sift through large amounts of data looking for patterns, rather than conducting targeted investigations.

“Smart meters are clearly one more avenue into people’s private lives, just like credit cards, your cell phone, your computer,” Toney said. “This is one more way that privacy, we feel, is being compromised.”

SDG&E insists it must release the data if presented with a valid subpoena.

“SDG&E rigorously protects the customer information that it collects and compiles with all (California Public Utilities Commission) rules and other laws regarding privacy of customer information,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

David R. Baker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer