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ASK THE EXPERTS

Stand up for rights

POSTED: May 23, 2012 4:00 a.m.

When did we click "Agree" to this Lack of Privacy and Security Policy?

If you are an Etowah Water and Sewer Authority customer you may have seen, or will soon see, a notice stuck to your mail box informing you that this Water Utility is switching your water meter to a "smart meter" under the guise of a directive of GA Senate Bill 370. This legislation did not mandate "smart meters" but that water utilities be able to account for their water usage and losses.

While these meters may seem like an efficient way to detect leaks and conserve water they will also allow the authority, their agents, and any knowledgeable hacker to access detailed, minute by minute, data of an individual homeowner's pattern of water usage.

The data from each smart meter is transmitted (like a cell phone conversation) via receiving antennae (three in Dawson County) and forwarded for collection by the authority.

Unlike conventional meters, which record amalgamated water use for monthly or weekly readings, Etowah Water and Sewer Authority's fix (estimated to cost around $2 million for approximately 5,300 customers) will pinpoint not only low flow leaks, but also when you flush, when you take a bath vs. a shower, or leave the faucet running when you brush your teeth, without any guarantee of the privacy of this data.

Although they may not be able to tell [what] you did in the bathroom, anyone seeing the minute by minute data will certainly be able to deduce that no water use in a home for an extended period means that the occupants may be away at work or on vacation.

This information, in the wrong hands, is not just a privacy issue, but also a safety and security concern.

With more than half the installation project already completed the authority has neither published on its Web site nor included in our water bills a privacy or security policy statement regarding how these data, from inside our homes, will be used.

Who sees this information? How is it handled? Is it shared with third parties or sold, or used to construct future tariff pricing? Will it be used to enforce watering restrictions? Has the ability of hackers gaining access to the transmissions been stymied? Does law enforcement need a warrant to peek?

While in Georgia we have a tradition of standing up for our First and Second Amendment rights, when I last checked there was a Fourth Amendment that deserves some attention too.

For those not familiar with this, it deals with searches inside our homes.

Jane Graves


President of Dawson County Homeowners Association

 

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