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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 29, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Rejects Privacy Alarm on Smart Meters

CHICAGO (CN) - A Chicago suburb's installation of smart meters that broadcast residents' electricity use throughout the day does not violate privacy, a federal judge ruled.

Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, a nonprofit, sued Naperville in 2012, claiming the city rushed to install smart meters that wirelessly broadcast information about consumers' electricity.

"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 complaint says. It also cites potential health concerns from exposure to radio frequencies.

Naperville, pop. 144,000, is a far west suburb of Chicago.

Naperville's City Council voted to allow residents to shut off their smart meter's wireless for a fee of $68.35, but the nonprofit says this is not a true opt-out alternative, because the meter will still collect the customer's information on its memory card.

U.S. District Judge John Lee dismissed the case on Friday, finding the privacy claims unsustainable.

"Even assuming that a smart meter is technically able to measure electrical usage and load to such minute detail and one were able to ascertain personal details about a resident's life from such data, the mere existence of such a capability does not reasonably lead to an inference that it is actually being employed," Judge Lee wrote.

Lee said the Illinois Electric Service Customer Choice and Rate Relief Law of 1997 provides that no specific usage information be given to a third party unless authorized by the customer.

But "plaintiffs have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the aggregate measurements of their electricity usage because they have consented to such aggregate measurements," by signing up for electricity service, the judge said.

Lee also dismissed plaintiff's due process claims based on possible harmful exposure to radio waves.

"Plaintiffs allege that certain doctors believe that over time the public's cumulative exposure to low-level RF [radio frequencies] from devices such as cell phones, radio towers, and smart meters may pose health risks, such that more accurate guidelines and standards regarding the safety of RF exposure are necessary. However, plaintiffs do not allege that defendant's smart meters, in and of themselves, deprive any particular plaintiff in this case of a liberty interest in bodily integrity or self-determination," Lee wrote.

He gave them two weeks to amend their complaint.

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