Advanced metering systems inherently create data privacy and
security risks because of the information they collect.
Utilities that fail to address these issues will find
themselves constrained by consumer and political opposition,
prevented from realizing the economic promise of AMI, and/or
faced with liability to angry regulators and customers.
What’s So Private About Meter Data?
In the advanced metering context, the “right to privacy”
means the consumers’ ability to set a boundary between
permissible and impermissible uses of information about
themselves. What is impermissible is a matter of culture as
expressed in law, markets, and what individuals freely
accept without objection (i.e., consensus values).
Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) puts privacy
interests at risk because its core purpose is to collect
information related to a particular household or business.
Meters can already collect a unique meter identifier,
timestamp, usage data, and time synchronization every 15 to
60 minutes. Soon, they will also collect outage, voltage,
phase, and frequency data, and detailed status and
diagnostic information from networked sensors and smart
appliances. These data show directly whether people were
present, when they were present, and what they were doing.
How much privacy risk AMI creates depends on its design. As
Michael LeMay and colleagues at the University of Illinois
discuss in An Integrated Architecture for Demand Response
Communications and Control (see link below), AMI can employ
various technologies, alone or in combination, such as
sensors, wireless transfers, internet connections, mesh
networks, and local and remote appliance and HVAC command
and control systems.
What constitutes permissible uses of personally identifiable
information varies from culture to culture and time to time;
but what goes on inside a residence is generally an area of
special privacy concern. Even illicit activity within a home
has special legal protection. In the U. S., for example, law
enforcement may not use sense-enhancing technology to reveal
activity within a home if the technology is capable of
revealing both illegal and legal activity and residents
would not expect such technology to be used against them.
Because AMI data reveal more about what goes on inside a
residence than would otherwise be known to outsiders, the
collection and use of such data reduce the scope of private
information. Although “privacy” is generally considered to
be a personal right, businesses typically have analogous
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