The Seventh Circuit, a federal court with jurisdiction over Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin states, has ruled that data collected via smart meters is protected by the Fourth Amendment, against unlawful searches and seizures. This means people will need a warrant to read someone’s smart meter data.
Utility companies in the U.S. have been actively installing smart meters. More than 40% of U.S. homes currently have a smart meter and the share will rise to 80% by 2020, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Whereas traditional electricity meters collect energy consumption data by a single figure on a monthly basis, smart meters present the data every 15 or 30 minutes. This data can show whether a house is vacant, when people are dining and sleeping, and what appliances are used in the home.
Previously U.S. courts have ruled that the Fourth Amendment’s protection does not cover household energy data. The EFF and Privacy International then filed a brief asking the Seventh Circuit to reconsider the ruling.
The Seventh Circuit decided that residents have a reasonable expectation of privacy and government access to this data constitutes, in essence, a search.
“We applaud the Seventh Circuit for recognizing that smart meters pose serious risks to the privacy of all of our homes and that rotely applying analogue-era case law to the digital age simply doesn’t work,” the EFF said, adding that “We hope that courts around the country (the U.S.) follow the Seventh Circuit in concluding that the Fourth Amendment protects smart meter data.”
While utility companies access the data all the time, the Seventh Circuit is not against it, considering the collection of smart meter data helps reduce energy costs, provide cheaper power to consumers and encourage energy efficiency.