In Texas, lawmakers actually did something good related to the smart meter debacle– they included in the law that the data about your electricity usage belongs to you, the customer.
Texas Utilities Code 39.107(b) states (in relevant part):
All meter data, including all data generated, provided, or otherwise made available, by advanced meters and meter information networks, shall belong to a customer, including data used to calculate charges for service, historical load data, and any other proprietary customer information.
I am not an attorney, but that would appear to mean that NO COMPANY OR AGENCY involved in the delivery of your electricity has any right to sell or give away any information about your electric usage.
Think about it like your car. It belongs to you. Your neighbor can’t come take your car and sell it or give it away. They have no rights to do that. If your data belongs to you, it seems logical that no one else can do anything with it that they can’t do with your car or your TV.
This law is extremely important because the data being generated is extremely valuable. The marketing potential by itself is phenomenal.
Smart meters record and send your electricity usage every 15 minutes. You can see the details if you go to SmartMeterTexas.com and sign up for an account. It’s very easy to tell when you’re asleep for the night, what time you wake up every morning, and if you get up in the middle of the night.
Imagine you are a drug manufacturer trying to sell a sleeping pill. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on TV or magazine ads that reach millions of people, but only result in a few buying the product, you can just access databases of smart meter information, find out who is regularly getting up in the middle of the night (for longer than it takes to go to the bathroom), and send those people direct mailings, or maybe even an instant text message as soon as they wake up with another bout of insomnia. Much, much cheaper, much more effective, and more profits all around!
Also, this might make it more difficult for government agencies & law enforcement to spy on innocent people. It’s possible that because the electric utilities hold the data that legally belongs to you, they might not be allowed to give it away to law enforcement just because the information was requested. I mean, if your neighbor borrows your computer, and the police want to search what’s on that computer while it’s in the neighbor’s possession, can the neighbor legally give them consent to search it? I’m not sure, but it would be worth looking into should you find yourself a target.
Also, if information about your electric usage has been illegally obtained and someone tries to use it against you in court, you may be able to get that evidence thrown out. For example, if a private investigator has access to a database service that bought your electric usage data from your utility company, and some information from that database service is to be used against you in a divorce, you might be able to get that evidence thrown out because the information was never to be sold in the first place. Or if the data is allowed as evidence, and you lose the case, maybe you could sue the utility for damages for selling your data illegally in the first place.
There is no reason to expect this law will stop any electric utilities from selling your data. There is too much money to be made. And it might be difficult to find out that they are doing it (the only electric utilities covered by open record laws are city-owned utilities). And even if it’s discovered, almost no one will do anything about it (like sue or file complaints). So even if they have to pay out some money to a few people who do sue, the utilities will still come out way ahead.
That’s why everyone should be aware of this issue. You never know when some information might show itself that gives you an idea that your data has been sold. Please report it to us if you think your data may have been sold. We will keep your identity strictly confidential.