Newspaper Column: Smart Meters and Wiretapping

Older US residential electric meter location, ...

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The Central Committee of the Bonneville Republican Party has lately become concerned with, and passed a resolution against, smart meter installation by Idaho Falls Power. Their concerns have been dismissed both by this newspaper and by Jackie Flowers, head of Idaho Falls Power.

I believe that their concerns about privacy and wiretapping are not overblown. It is possible to tell what someone is doing in their house, even down to which television show they are watching (according to a study by the Münster University of Applied Sciences http://tinyurl.com/smartmeters-tv or http://tinyurl.com/smartmeters-german for the original German), with smart meters.

I do not believe that Idaho Falls Power is deliberately installing smart meters in people’s homes to spy on them. However, I also do not believe that Idaho Falls Power is doing enough to reassure customers that the smart meter data will not be misused.

When I spoke to an Idaho Falls Power employee, Mark Reed, in 2009, about smart meters, he was quite reassuring that the utility would never misuse the data from the smart meters. However, one aspect that we did not discuss, because I had not thought about it enough, was that the smart meter data is radio-transmitted and can theoretically be read by anyone with a receiver to receive that frequency. I have since learned that smart meters usually have little or no security for their data transmissions, so it’s easy for others to obtain.

Many people dismiss concerns about smart meter privacy by saying there is no conspiracy among utilities and city government or police to find out what citizens are doing in their homes. I would agree, but without proper security for the radio transmissions, anyone with the proper (easily obtainable) equipment can read them. Do you want your neighbor to know which TV shows you watch? I start seedlings for my garden with a heat mat – what if a busybody concluded the spike in my electrical consumption combined with purchases of potting soil meant I was growing marijuana?

Smart meters are probably the wave of the future, but we do not have to blindly accept them without safeguards. Why is Idaho Falls Power so secretive about the security levels of the smart meters? Until they can clearly explain why my personal data is not at risk with a smart meter, I for one don’t want a smart meter.

This column originally appeared in the (Idaho Falls) Post Register on December 14, 2011.

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Since I wrote this column, it has come to my attention that some people have serious concerns about the health risks of smart meters. In California, they have organized a group called Stop Smart Meters. Here is an article about them in the San Francisco Chronicle: PG&E SmartMeter draws customer rebellion.

 

Today in History

Today in 1959, rock and roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.
from the sidelines feature in the (Idaho Falls) Post Register

The original rock & roll stars. They were doing the same kind of music as Elvis, but years earlier. How did their deaths change musical history?

If you’re wondering what this has to do with anything, the answer is not much. I like their songs, when I’ve heard them, and I’m a huge fan of American Pie, by Don McLean, that’s supposedly about them, at least in part.

And if you haven’t already, be sure and read Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett. One of his DiscWorld series, it is a parody of Buddy Holly set in Ankh-Morpork, DiscWorld. A very good story, and an excellent spoof of the entertainment industry. I love the surprise ending.

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