Grappling with the Smart Grid
December 10, 2009
Our nation's electrical grid is getting a makeover. This new "Smart Grid" promises lower energy costs for consumers, increased use of green technology and stronger defenses against computer-based attacks. But there is a fair amount of risk riding shotgun with those rewards.
In a new Huffington Post piece, CDT President Leslie Harris outlines the unresolved privacy issues arising from the advent of the Smart Grid. At the core of these new privacy risks is the Smart Grid's nearly insatiable appetite for energy consumption data "in the form of highly granular household consumer information," Harris writes. The Smart Grid will be capable of consuming anywhere from 750 to 3,000 "data points" of household energy information.
Some of the activities that might be revealed through the Smart Grid include personal sleep and work habits, cooking and eating schedules, the presence of certain medical equipment and other specialized devices, and activities that signal illegal, or simply unorthodox,
behavior.As a result, information collected by the Smart Grid is valuable for many purposes other than energy efficiency, most prominently commercial exploitation by advertisers and marketers, access by criminals who wish to peek into homes, and access to household information and surveillance by law enforcement.
The rollout of the Smart Grid is still in its early stages and at this critical juncture policymakers should adopt a "privacy by design," Harris says. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is looking into the privacy issue right now and has solicited comments on the issue from the public.
"There will be many other forums for working on privacy for the Smart Grid and we need to seize those opportunities as well to build in privacy protections for a technology that will one day control a vast amount of our personal, intimate data," Harris says.