We don’t need utilities, cars monitoring our behavior

We don’t need utilities, cars monitoring our behavior: Susan Shelley

A so-called Smart Meter for water. (Courtesy photo)

In 1933, humorist James Thurber wrote that his grandmother lived the latter years of her life in the horrible suspicion that electricity was leaking all over the house.

The woman was ahead of her time.

Utility companies are installing new meters on our homes that leak the juicy details of our lives.

Did you get a notice from the Southern California Gas Co. about the installation of Advanced Meters? The devices provide daily monitoring to help teach customers to have “better control” over their energy usage.

So if you’ve been heating your home to 212 degrees until water boils in a cup on the kitchen table, you can stop now. Your new meter will teach you to make tea in the microwave.

You can opt out of having an Advanced Meter, but it will cost you $75 plus $10 a month forever, thanks to the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission.

The Gas Company emphasizes that its Advanced Meters are nothing like the Smart Meters used by other utilities, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “Advanced Meters do not communicate with other meters, or with appliances in the home,” the Gas Company’s website explains. “Advanced Meters cannot turn on or turn off your gas service.”

The DWP’s Smart Meters, which feature “two-way communication,” are currently leaking information on the power habits of 52,000 DWP customers roped into a demonstration program called Smart Grid L.A. Customers can “personally monitor their energy use in real-time,” according to the DWP website.

The Gas Company’s Advanced Meters phone home just once a day, but the DWP’s Smart Meters continuously relay information that would allow anyone with access to the data, including a hacker, to know when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake, when you’re out, what time you get home, and when you’re away on vacation.

What could possibly go wrong?

In another pilot program, the state of California is studying the idea of adopting a “road usage charge” in the hope that taxing our mileage will raise more revenue than taxing the gallons of fuel we buy. Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board is considering new regulations to require automobile manufacturers to collect more data in their cars’ on-board computers.

CARB says it needs more information on the gas mileage and CO2 emissions of passenger vehicles. The regulators want data on speed, distance, number of stops, and air conditioner use, and they plan to download the data to the state’s computers during smog checks. The new regulations will be published in April, with a board hearing in May.

The snooping doesn’t stop at energy issues. California banks a blood sample of every newborn baby and sells access to the DNA to researchers. This has been going on since 1980.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, has introduced AB 170, a bill that would require notification to parents that the state has retained their child’s DNA material and informing them that they have the right to request that it be destroyed.

That’s a good start on privacy protection, but it’s not enough.

We need a law that prohibits utilities from conducting real-time or daily monitoring of energy and water usage unless customers have agreed to it. We need a law that stops unaccountable regulators from tapping into the computers of privately owned vehicles to download data on Californians’ driving history.

The California Constitution says privacy is a right; it’s not a policy option to be crossed out by people who believe they are working for the greater good. Individual rights are the foundation of freedom. There is no greater good than that.


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