Smart Meters are dangerous. Here's why and how, but it is only the tip of the iceberg
March 02, 2012
We recently posted the video below on our video feature on the Home Page.
We think this issue needs further discussion, if for no other reason than Washington Electric Utility is implementing a program to install "Smart Meters" in its service area. (See Feedback comment below).
From our research what we sense we have here is the typical scenario of expansion of government intrusion into our lives and liberties. We say "typical" because the way it usually happens is that the government takes a well-meaning chip out of our liberties for our own good, or so we are told. No better example can be found than the Transportation Safety Administration's "protecting" us from terrorists. The Fourth Amendment says very clearing that the government cannot search us without having probable cause to believe that we are violating the law. But the courts have ruled over the years that if they choose to search everyone they can do it without a warrant. The legal theory is that when you buy an airplane ticket you give your "implied consent" to be search as a part of the privilege of flying on a public carrier. The U. S. Supreme Court has upheld such searches by holding that the searches for our own good are worth it considering the risks.
The idea behind Smart Meters is to allow the electric company to monitor electricity consumption so they can manage the grid. That is, so they can know when they are likely to face "peak demand." The next step was to provide Smart Switches so they could cut the power off to certain electrical devices so they could shave the peak when needed.
Based on this, the electric companies' say it is for everyone's own good. It reduces the cost of electricity.
But here's the problem. Smart Meter not only monitor electricity consumption, but they transmit information to a network that ultimately ends up in a control room somewhere that receives the transmissions. Still no problem you say. And yes that is more or less correct. They can bill use not just for the number of kilowatts we use, but ultimately they can bill us more for using electricity at certain times than at others. Then it is technically possible to penalize us if we use certain devices, such as dish washers, at the "wrong time of day."
The problem is that in order to do all these "smart" things beyond simply keeping up with how much electricity we consume and shutting down appliances at certain times they begin record this information. Now we have a different scenario. Once the data are recorded the issue becomes: Who has access to the information and for what purposes.
We have already seen that law enforcement agencies have demand that the data be released for criminal investigations. While we are not aware of any reported cases, we suspect it is likely that the IRS has also obtained such data for tax audit purposes. It is not farfetched to speculate that they would demand the electrical records of a business if they thought those records would tell them whether the company is doing more business than they are paying taxes on.
Then it becomes a bit foggier. Imagine that the local government Planning Department suspected that you were operating a business in a building that is not zoned commercial. High electric consumption may give them grounds, in their administrative judgment, to accuse you of violating the local zoning regulations.
But none of this troubles us as much as some other possibilities.
Secret monitoring, either legal or illegal, by audio or video requires two things: A source of power and a way to transmit data to the snooper. Smart meter networks now provide both of those essentials.
Once a transmission network is created it is technically possible to transmit data and information that was never originally intended. We predict the day will come that somebody, government official or otherwise, will install a microphone or video camera in a home or place of business and use the Smart Meter network to transmit the recordings to a clandestine operator who has access to the network, legal or otherwise. Not too long ago we read stories of a school system that issued laptops to students viewing what was going on in private homes via use of the webcams on the laptops.
Electronic bugs, either audio, video or digital (such as wireless computer network traffic) becomes an infinitely greater threat from eavesdropping where a transmission network allows for data and information to be broadcast over a much longer distance than is currently possible. The electrical Smart Meters create such a network and allow, theoretically, mammoth amounts of data of all kinds to be collected from thousands, or conceivably hundreds of thousands, of homes and stored in a central place, where it can be analyzed and mined. That is one of our greatest fear of Smart Meters.
It is not the meters or the management of electricity that we fear. It is the network. It is what can be attached to that network, either legitimately or illegitimately that we fear.
This is not unlike the potential for invasion of privacy by GPS units on our cars or cell phones.
There are significant network security issues involved here. Is the data the smart meter transmitted encrypted? How secure is the storage? Many of the issues raised by Google, Facebook, et. al. monitoring our browsing activities are raised by smart meters. Our fear is not from the Smart Meter being used to monitor elecrical consumption. It is rather from the abuse that is potential in the system.
And it all comes from you signing up to buy electricity for the power company. Once you do that you will most likely be granting them "implied consent" to gather data on you. But what if that data collection is abused? What is to be done to prevent it from ever happening and who is liable for damages to you if it is ever abused?
The answer: Don't give permission for them to install a Smart Meter. Don't allow them to claim you gave your consent to be monitored. Watch the video to see one way you can protect yourself and your family.
And the next time a politician asks for your vote tell him/her that you will only give it to them if they support strict liability of anyone operating a monitoring network for any and all abuses that result for that network, whether intended by the operator or not. The concept of strict liability makes the owner of the network liable for it being abused, not just if they are negligent but liable rather for the consequences of not operating the network in such a way as to prevent abuse by anyone.