by Yana A. St. Clair, Esq.
A VERY personal perspective on Smart Meters…
This is a topic that I’ve had my heart set on for quite some time, but have been avoiding addressing because, well, here at PACWorld we seem to be quite fond of the SmartGrid, and digitization and anything “smart,” but from my personal point of view, which is perhaps jaded by an intense concern, bordering on obsession, with privacy and how near and dear it is to our most fundamental rights as individuals and citizens of a free world, many, actually most, recent advancements that stamp the word “smart” to themselves, tend to be a flagrant violation, or mortal enemy if you will, of the sacred concept of privacy.
We live in a “smart” world, with all our “smart” devices and “smart” homes and the majority of people embrace it with open arms and are absolutely thrilled about how much it simplifies our lives, and it does, but it comes at a cost, and it’s a heavy cost. I often feel like I’m talking to a wall when it comes to these issues, especially with people of my own generation who know nothing other than a world of “smart” everything, but I keep preaching nonetheless, because I think too many of us don’t really think about what we’re actually giving up.
Aside from the few and far in between individuals who get tossed the ugly paranoid, or conspiracy theorist stigma, most of us couldn’t be happier with everything that Google, and Apple, and all the other tech giants are doing to make our lives easier. And they are! I mean no one can deny that, but there’s a major but. Sometimes I’ll see posts on social media warning of the dangers of having stick figure family stickers on your car. You don’t see these often in metropolitan areas, but essentially they are bumper stickers posted on the backs of SUV’s or StationWagons that depict the members of the family, sometimes with a soccer ball for the boy, or ballerina outfit for the girl, and the police departments which post these warn about what a horrible idea they are because you’re giving too much information to potential “bad guys” about your family structure and habits, meaning how many are in your household, when you take the kids to practice and so on.
Well, if you’re concerned about the habits and personal practices of your family, or just yourself, being known to the public, whether that be the government, in the form of your local water and power or gas company, or worse, a bad guy who’s hacking into this VERY vulnerable to intrusion system, let me tell you, smart meters are stick figure family stickers from hell, on steroids. Meaning way scarier, way worse and WAY more invasive and detailed.
As most of you are probably aware, analog meters would generally detect the amount of energy a consumer uses, and that was pretty much it. Smart meters on the other hand, can tell you way more. A 2009 report entitled, “Smart Metering & Privacy: Existing Law and Competing Policies,” compiled for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission states:
“A remarkable number of electric appliances can be identified by their load signatures, and with impressive accuracy. Researchers have all but mastered identification of the larger common household appliances such as water heaters, well pumps, furnace blowers, refrigerators, and air conditioners, with recognition accuracies approaching perfection. Ongoing work focuses now on the myriad smaller electric devices around the home such as personal computers, laser printers, and [different types of] light bulbs.”
So basically, the power company, or anyone who hacks into it, and there are plenty of savvy techy types these days, would have full knowledge of your entire schedule. Meaning, when you’re asleep, because only basic appliances such as the refrigerator are running, when you’re gone for the day and no one is home, because the majority of lights are off, and there is no turning on or off of random appliances, and worst of all, when you’re out of town. Now this brings us to the fact that all of these wonderful smart devices are connected to each other, and they share information with one another, or through the network, and in turn with the world. So, when you’re not home you obviously turn off your smart thermostat, and when you’re about to get back from vacation you turn it back on in advance, to set your home to a preferred temperature. And then of course your cameras are all linked to the same network.
And speaking of the network, in many instances you can’t even choose, or don’t know how, to restrict who can gain access to one device on your network, which in turn gives them access to all other devices. Now if this individual is an annoying tech savvy cousin you don’t want messing with something it’s one thing, but when it’s a hacker, it’s even scarier, and in many instances it’s way easier to be accomplished than we many think, because for example, our Ring home security cameras, automatically give everyone in your area access to your network as part of something they call “neighborhood.” It’s supposed to be helpful if your WiFi goes out, and you need to stay connected, your cameras automatically start using a neighbor’s network. This function can be disabled in settings, but guess what, a power company’s smart meter can’t. It’s on, all the time, and it’s always tracking you.
Sleep well my friends, and enjoy the comfort of your smart home tonight…
Disclosure: Please note that none of the information contained within the above column is to be considered legal advice.
Yana is an American attorney licensed to practice in all State and Federal courts of California. Yana holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science specializing in International Relations from UCLA, the Degree of Juris Doctor from Loyola Law School, and a Master of Business Administration Degree from Ashford University. Since the beginning of her undergraduate studies, Yana has been involved in various aspects of the field of Electrical Engineering, where she employs her business and legal knowledge to consulting and advising businesses and individuals on relevant topics of concern. Yana also serves as Editor for PACWorld magazine, having been with the publication since its inception. As an attorney, Yana specializes in criminal defense, where she devotes her talents and expertise to fighting for her clients’ rights and freedom.