Thursday, March 11, 2010

Smart metering of electricity raises privacy, security concerns: how separate from Internet?


The recent concerns about climate change, peak oil, and economic sustainability have led to proposals for “smart metering” and smart energy grids, using the Internet or Internet-like applications to not only meter or measure power usage but make the distribution of power as efficient as possible, particularly in situations where individual consumers might be able to sell power back (as those with solar collectors or Bloom Boxes) to utilities. Thomas Friedman has proposed such innovations in his book “The World Is Flat”.

However, many observers are documenting scenarios were consumer privacy could be seriously compromised. A good treatise on the problem was authored by Elias Leake Quinn for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for a report published in April 2009, “Smart Metering & Privacy: Existing Law and Competing Policies”, link here.

Intrusions could come from marketers (data collection companies), criminals, or rogue government, or especially attorneys. Component electricity consumption could provide evidence of other activities useful for litigating parties, as in divorce. Landlords might want to monitor questionable tenants.

But some of the concerns would rest on how secure the grid was and how disconnected it was kept from the normally accessible portions of the Internet. Some of the greatest dangers could come from hackers or those intent on bringing on cyber warfare, as in the recent CNN special “Cyber.Shockwave”.

Kim Zetter has an article in Wired ("Threat Level", March 10, 2010), “Security Pros Question Deployment of Smart Meters”, link here reporting on an RSA Security Conference in San Francisco. There have been reports of questions about the reliability of smart meters in Dallas (on the Fox channel, report by Natalie Solis, link and in California with a suit against PG&E, Greentech Media article here.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a summary article by Lee Tien (who worked with me on COPA), March 10, 2010, link here.

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