BC Hydro is safeguarding personal information, privacy watchdog finds

December 19, 2011

BC Hydro failed to notify customers who received new smart meters about how their personal information was being collected and used, B.C.’s privacy watchdog said Monday.

Elizabeth Denham, B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, released a report assessing the privacy and security of BC Hydro’s smart meter program, stating the Crown corporation is not fully in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection and Privacy Act.

“BC Hydro is required by law to tell their customers the purpose for collecting personal information for the smart meters project, what legal authority they have to do so and to provide contact information for a BC Hydro employee who can answer any questions that arise regarding collection,” Denham said.

“Hydro is not currently meeting this requirement, and we’ve made some recommendations to help them improve their customer notification.”

Denham launched the investigation into the smart meter program in July after receiving some of 600 complaints and correspondences from the public about BC Hydro’s plan to replace 1.8 million older meters with so-called smart meters.

Hacking concerns

The smart meters measure residents’ power consumption by the hour, and then use wireless signals to relay that information back to BC Hydro.

BC Hydro has said the new technology will make the province’s energy grid more efficient, sustainable and better able to respond to outages. BC Hydro also said energy consumption data, which would be transmitted wirelessly, would be encrypted and remain both secure and private.

But critics of the program are concerned that smart meters could be hacked to give away information that could pose a personal security risk, like indicating when residents are home and when houses are empty.

Denham said that hourly power use updates would reveal patterns of household consumption and information about customers’ daily lives, but said BC Hydro is taking adequate measures to safeguard this information.

Denham found BC Hydro is in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection and Privacy Act when it comes to the collection, use, disclosure, protection and retention of the personal information of its customers.

“It is clear from my investigation that BC Hydro is taking privacy and security seriously as it develops a framework for the implementation of smart meters and a smart grid,” Denham said. “But there are areas for improvement.”

Denham’s report makes 14 recommendations for BC Hydro to improve privacy and security practices. She said BC Hydro has committed to create plans to address these recommendations.