Thinking Tech

Smart grid spying worries privacy advocates

Posting in Energy

Given all the appliance monitoring that the smart grid entails, will the grid report what I have in the fridge or what drugs are on my bathroom shelf? What does my energy usage say about me and my family members?

My washing machine is spying on me

What could someone possibly do with information about your home energy usage patterns? At first blush, I need to think about this, but privacy advocates are already raising red flags.

Attorney Susan L. Lyon writes a thought provoking column headlined "Privacy Challenges Could Stall Smart Grid" which is something I and probably you have never thought deeply about. She poses valid questions: Will retailers or law enforcement see the data? Given all the appliance monitoring that the smart grid entails, will the grid report what I have in the fridge or what drugs are on my bathroom shelf? What does my energy usage say about me and my family members?

Her warning is prescient even if we can't immediately put out finger on potential abuse: consumers and smart grid vendors need to anticipate these concerns rather than react to an incident. She also cites the sanctity of the home directly from the Bill of Rights:

What would Bill of Rights author James Madison said about the Smart Grid?

"The right of the people to be secure in their ... houses ... shall not be violated."

I recall when Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in stages about six years ago, physicians decried the paper storm that resulted from informing patients about privacy. HIPAA was supposed to lay the foundation for privacy guarantees in the emerging era of electronic health records (EHR).

In some ways, HIPAA impeded EHRs because doctors resented what amounted to another unfunded mandate from the feds. But Lyons' column makes me think perhaps a HIPAA light that protects homeowners from unauthorized smart grid spying might be an idea who's time has arrived.

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure