Will your electric meter start spying on you?

We’re all aware of privacy concerns involving things like electronic medical records, social media networks and on-line financial transactions–but what about your electric bill? Or more specifically, your electricity usage, as tracked by the “smart grid” technology envisioned in the Obama Administration’s new “Policy Framework for the 21st-Century Grid.”

That question got some attention at last week’s annual conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy, Emily Badger reports at Miller-McCune. The smart grid has great potential to reduce energy use and better manage blackouts and other emergency situations, but it also raises concerns about information the grid could record on individual users. One conference participant read a quote from an energy industry official warning of the potential dangers:

“We… have the technology to record [energy consumption] every minute, second, microsecond more or less live. From that we can infer how many people are in the house, what they do, whether they’re upstairs, downstairs, do you have a dog, when do you habitually get up, when did you get up this morning, when do you have a shower: masses of private data.”

And that date has value, said Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Because it’s so monetizable, there’s so much money chasing it, we have to anticipate from a policy perspective all of these attempts to exploit it and to drive it,” he said.