Feeds

Smart meters are 'massive surveillance' tech - privacy supremo

Euro watchdog demands data law to protect punters

Remote control for virtualized desktops

The European Data Protection Supervisor has warned that smart meters are a significant privacy threat and wants limits on the retention and use of customer data before it's too late.

The EDPS is an independent authority figure tasked with identifying where EU policies might represent a risk to privacy. He reckons next-generation meters, which precisely monitor electricity use within homes, are a very likely candidate unless his concerns are addressed ahead of time.

Peter Hustinx, who fills the role with the assistance of Giovanni Buttarelli, admits there are advantages of smart metering, but warns that the technology will "also enable massive collection of personal data which can track what members of a household do within the privacy of their own homes". He pulls up examples of baby monitors and medical devices, which have identifiable patterns of energy consumption and could therefore be used to monitor what people are doing.

That might sound fanciful, but researchers have already demonstrated that the pattern of energy consumed by a decent flat-screen TV can be used to work out what programme is being watched, and Hustinx is probably right that this isn't information most of us would wish to share with our electricity providers.

Smart meters need to collect all that data in order to reduce our reliance on power - it's now an article of faith that once we know how much energy we're using we'll magically reduce that consumption, so the EU is committed to mandating smart meters by 2020. Therefore the EDPS thinks we need legislation now, before it's too late, stating what the data can be used for and how long it can be retained.

The real way to reduce power consumption is by using smart appliances - such as a washing machine that can be configured to run during the night - at the behest of electricity suppliers and with a suitably discounted rate. But this scenario is still a long way off from reality for the majority of us, so energy targets remain pinned to the idea we'll voluntarily wash less.

The UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change has taken some steps in this direction, promising that collected data won't be shared with third parties, and requiring decent security to prevent it being stolen, but even that stops short of the limitations suggested by the EDPS.

The European Commission is preparing a document on the impact of all this new data, but as planned it's limited to vague objectives rather than specific requirements, which is what the EDPS thinks will be necessary. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.