Watchdog Voices Smart Meter Privacy Concerns

     (CN) – Energy consumption smart meters need proper safeguards to avoid the “massive collection of personal data,” Europe’s consumer data protection watchdog warned.
     While plans by the European Commission to roll out smart meters might bring significant benefits, they also come at the cost of consumer privacy, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) said in a statement Monday.
     Such meters will be able to “track what members of a household do within the privacy of their own homes, whether they are away on holiday or at work, if someone uses a specific medical device or a baby monitor, how they like to spend their free time, and so on,” the agency warned.
     “These patterns can be useful for analyzing our energy use for energy conservation but together with data from other sources, the potential for extensive data mining is very significant,” the EDPS said. “Patterns and profiles can be used for many other purposes, including marketing, advertising and price discrimination by third parties.”
     While the European Commission’s plan to prepare a data protection assessment is a good start, it has not provided more specific, comprehensive or practical guidance in the smart meter plan itself, the agency noted.
     “The EDPS calls on the commission to assess whether further legislative action is necessary at EU level to ensure adequate protection of personal data for the rollout of smart metering systems and … provides pragmatic recommendations for such legislative action,” Assistant EDPS Giovanni Buttarelli said in a statement from Brussels.
     “These should at least include a mandatory requirement for controllers to conduct a data protection impact assessment and an obligation to notify personal data breaches,” Buttarelli added.
     In its official opinion, the EDPS recommends more stringent legal requirements for data processing and giving consumers a choice on meter-reading frequency. The agency also wants mandatory privacy-enhancing technology and the “best available techniques” to minimize data breaches, as well as more input on data-retention periods.
     The EDPS also says consumers should be able to directly access their energy-usage data, and receive full disclosure about profiles, algorithms used for data mining and information on remote power functionality.
     The European Commission launched its recommendation for smart meters earlier this year. Member states are to carry out economic assessments of the plan by September 2012, with full rollout of the meters expected by 2020.
     The EDPS is “an independent supervisory authority devoted to protecting personal data and privacy and promoting good practice in the EU institutions and bodies,” according to its website. The agency monitors the EU administration’s processing of personal data, advises on policy and law affecting personal data privacy, and cooperates with authorities to ensure consistent data protection.

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