Patricia Burke of local activist group Halt MA Smart Meters brings to our attention an effort by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to study how to achieve universal adoption of smart meters on residential homes in Massachusetts. This implicates the Fourth Amendment because electricity usage within a home, if gathered many times over a 24-hour period and transmitted to a government agency, may constitute a warrantless search of that home to which the home’s resident has not consented. The IT Law Wiki provides an excellent overview of the constitutional issues here.
It is unclear from the documents provided by DPU whether any plan actually exists for what to do with the data gathered by utility companies such as National Grid. It is possible that the data would remain with the utilities, and would be used to implement peak pricing that in turn would both increase profits and reduce stress on the grid at peak times. However, as we have seen with the NSA scandals, it is very easy for government agencies to get court orders requesting the ongoing release of such records by utilities to law enforcement. The records would, under the “third-party doctrine,” probably be considered to be the property of the utility company, and therefore law enforcement would typically not seek either the permission of the resident or a duly executed warrant from a judge before accessing this data.
Long-time readers of this blog will know where we’re going with this. Yes, it’s fusion centers.