Energy Dept. report: Make smart-grid data sharing opt in

Report recommends giving consumers the right to say who can access their energy usage data and for what purposes.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read
Department of Energy

Consumers should have the right to control access to the data on their energy usage collected by smart meters and be able to decide whether to share it with third parties, a U.S. Department of Energy report is recommending.

Smart meters being deployed today use digital technology and two-way communications to control appliances in homes and keep track of energy usage.

The usage data, tied to specific homes, has "enormous potential to enable utilities or other third-party service providers to help consumers significantly reduce energy consumption, avoid costly breakdowns and repairs, and reduce the overall complexity of running a modern household full of increasingly complex and interactive devices and appliances," the report (PDF) said.

But the ability to link the data to individuals or households makes it particularly sensitive, according to the report, which was released earlier this month.

"Advances in Smart Grid technology could significantly increase the amount of potentially available information about personal energy consumption," the report concluded. "Such information could reveal personal details about the lives of consumers, such as their daily schedules (including times when they are at or away from home or asleep), whether their homes are equipped with alarm systems, whether they own expensive electronic equipment such as plasma TVs, and whether they use certain types of medical equipment."

While data about energy usage is not currently tied to specific appliances, it will be in the future, the report said. Privacy risks should be considered as vendors and utilities develop and deploy smart-grid technologies, the agency advised.

"Because such data can also disclose fairly detailed information about the behavior and activities of a particular household, however, there was also broad consensus that the collection of CEUD (consumer specific energy-usage data) raises privacy implications that should be acknowledged and respected during the development of intelligent electrical-metering-and-usage-monitoring technologies."

To help maintain privacy, consumers should be able to decide whether and for what purposes any third-party should be able to access or receive the usage data, and utilities should not disclose the data to third parties unless the consumer has opted in to such disclosure, the report recommended.

In addition, states should adopt laws that define the circumstances, conditions, and data that utilities can disclose to third parties.