Skip to main content

"Smart Grid" privacy issues to be examined by Federal Communications Commission

Smart Grid technology enables electric utilities to use communications and computing technology to glean consumer electric usage patterns to facilitate more efficient network management. It's been identified by the FCC as a promising way to use broadband to promote energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and encourage energy independence.

These consumer electric usage patterns could conceivably do far more.... For example, marketing firms may find valuable market penetration data in consumer electric usage patterns and law enforcement could use information about electricity usage to pinpoint potential sites of criminal activity. Basically, the very characteristics that make smart grid information valuable to environmental efforts may also have serious implications for consumer privacy and are attracting the interest of regulators here in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Specifically, the FCC has sought comment by October 2, 2009 on the issue of how strong privacy and security requirements can be satisfied in deploying smart grid technology without stifling innovation.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission just closed a comment period last week on the following issues and the comments received on these questions may help to further inform the debate at the national level:

1. What concerns surrounding the collection and analysis of detailed electricity usage information should the CPUC consider as it establishes policies governing access to and use of this information?
2. What, if any, are the trade-offs between protecting privacy and promoting innovation with regards to smart grid technology?
3. Should detailed electricity usage information be protected? If so, how?
4. How do constitutional or statutory protections impact the use of consumers’ detailed electricity usage information collected as part of smart grid initiatives? What protections should be put in place even if not covered by constitutional or statutory provisions?
5. What are the necessary components of effective privacy regulation of consumer electricity usage patterns? For example, should disclosure of consumer information to third-parties be on an opt-in or an opt-out basis, or should the consent-requirement depend on the nature of the party receiving the information?
6. How much information about consumer electricity usage do electric utilities and “edge service providers” require to facilitate more efficient network management, load forecasting, asset management, bill control, demand-side load management, efficiency consulting, energy savings contracting, etc.?
7. How do privacy regulations affect electric utilities and “edge service providers” in their efforts to provide enhanced electricity management services?
8. Who “owns” customer information?
9. What should be a utility’s obligation to “unbundle” metering in homes and businesses?

Subscribe To Viewpoints


Cynthia J. Larose

Member / Chair, Privacy & Cybersecurity Practice

Cynthia J. Larose is Chair of the firm's Privacy & Cybersecurity Practice, a Certified Information Privacy Professional-US (CIPP-US), and a Certified Information Privacy Professional-Europe (CIPP-E). She works with clients in various industries to develop comprehensive information security programs on the front end, and provides timely counsel when it becomes necessary to respond to a data breach.