Privacy Alarm at 'Smart' Electric Meters

     CHICAGO (CN) - A nonprofit group claims Naperville is rushing to install "smart" meters that wirelessly broadcast information about consumers' electricity use despite privacy concerns - and is not offering residents a viable alternative.
     Naperville Smart Meter Awareness sued the City of Naperville in Federal Court. Naperville, pop. 145,000, 28 miles west of Chicago, is a bedroom community for the metropolis.
     Smart meters use "a wireless radio frequency network to communicate power usage data from the customer's home or business back to the utility on a regular, if not constant, basis," according to the complaint.
     Smart meters "can be upgraded remotely by the utility, providing the ability to implement future innovations and add-ons easily."
     While there has been heavy federal support for development of smart meter systems, the nonprofit claims that "funding and deployment during what some have called the 'smart grid gold rush' has vastly outstripped the federal government's ability to develop meaningful privacy and security standards and regulations within one of the nation's most critical infrastructures."
     It adds: "Smart meter technology creates a new system of data collection, communication and information sharing related to energy usage. The potential exists to collect, store and share private customer information without customer consent or control. ...
     "Smart meters provide rich knowledge about intimate details of a customer's life and serious concerns exist regarding access to personal data gleaned from the devices."
     The plaintiff claims that "reports of cyber attacks and security breaches are regularly in the news."
     But it says the city denied its request for a copy of its "cyber security plan, including specific policies and procedures that have been put into place to ensure Naperville residents will be notified in case of a security breach or cyber attack."
     The group adds that some people believe that the wireless frequencies emitted by smart meters may be harmful.
     Quoting California State Representative Jared Huffman, the complaint states: "Whether or not you believe RF [radio frequency] exposures from smart meters are harmful, it's only fair than consumers who are concerned about health effects be given complete technical information and the choice of another technology for devices that are installed at their homes." (Brackets in complaint.)
     Although the City Council voted to allow a Non-Wireless Meter Alternative (NWMA) option, "the city is not providing customers with the option of keeping their current analog meter," and will charge $68.35 for a resident to shut off the smart meter's wireless function, the complaint states.
     It adds that as of October 2011, "the city stated it has not budgeted for a mailing to apprise Naperville residents of the NWMA option," nor does the city's website provide any information about it.
     The group claims that "as a direct result of the city's failure to provide the freedom of choice clearly required by federal statute, the forced installation of smart meters by the city will cause the plaintiff to suffer substantial and irreparable injuries."
     It claims, "the city is not offering a true 'opt-out' alternative. A customer must accept a smart meter. The only option is to have the radio transmitter 'shut off.' Such meters will still collect the same detailed information, but it will be stored on a computer memory card instead of being transmitted wirelessly throughout the day."
     The plaintiff claims Naperville is violating the 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments as well as the Energy Policy Act of 2005. It wants the installation of the smart meters suspended, the community given a choice to keep the old meters at no cost, and the right "to have their voices heard".
     Naperville Smart Meter Awareness is represented by Doug Ibendahl, of Chicago.