2009 Archive

Samuelson Clinic Outlines Smart Grid Concerns in FCC Comment

By Andrew Cohen

Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic co-director Jennifer Urban ’00 and two clinic students have filed a comment with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that outlines concerns and recommendations regarding new Smart Grid technology.

Amid the push for more efficient systems for the Smart Grid—which delivers electricity from points of generation to consumers—utilities are moving quickly into new technologies that monitor customer energy usage more accurately. Some of these technologies can inform utilities when a customer is home or away, which appliances the customer is using, and when they’re being used.

This detailed picture of personal habits—sleeping, eating, cooking, and even movement within a house—can make the Smart Grid more efficient and help consumers manage their energy use. But in their FCC comment, available here, Urban, Berkeley Law student Liz Eraker ’11, and School of Information student Longhao Wang warn of potentially hazardous side effects.

“Third-party data aggregators covet that detailed information for demographic targeting and advertisers want to use it for targeted ads,” Urban says. “Law enforcement would like to use it to solve crimes, but it’s also attractive to criminals who’d like to break into homes or steal identities.”

Covering a host of consumer privacy and security concerns, the comment lists considerations to take into account when designing rules that govern the Smart Grid and its new technologies. The Samuelson Clinic filed it on behalf of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a non-profit public interest organization that works to enhance free expression and privacy in communications technologies.

The comment states that “if the public does not trust the new grid, it may not even develop to a stage where we can test its true effectiveness.” It goes on to say that “focusing attention on the privacy issues implicated in the Smart Grid is critical” in order to “fully realize the consumer benefits of a modernized and greener grid.”