Seattle City Council adopts nation’s strongest law to protect utility customer personal data

News Release: 
Monday, August 6, 2018
The Seattle City Council on Monday August 6th passed an ordinance to ensure utility consumers’ sensitive personal data is not sold and is used only for utility service and related purposes. The ordinance relates to City Light’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) program, also known as smart meters.
“This new ordinance will provide basic protections for every person in Seattle who buys power from the City of Seattle,” said Shankar Narayan, Technology and Liberty Program Director for the ACLU of Washington. “We applaud Reps. Mosqueda, O’Brien, and the rest of the Council for recognizing that these protections are critical in a world where utility customers’ sensitive data can be used to make important decisions about them without their knowledge or consent.  But the work is not over—the Council should move to ensure those who wish to opt out of the program can do so at no cost, and to ask for important answers about which third parties will access smart meter data under the program.”
Smart meters collect energy-use data at high frequencies—typically every 5, 15, or 30 minutes. Frequent data collection means that smart meters always know exactly how much energy is being used, and that data can be analyzed to determine, with alarming specificity, what a person is doing inside their home at any given time. Patterns in smart meter data reveal when you are home, when you are sleeping, when you take a shower, and even whether you cook dinner on the stove or in the microwave. This intimate lifestyle data can impact decisions about a person, such as how much they pay for health care, whether they get a job or housing, or even their eligibility for public benefits.
To ensure this sensitive personal information is not divulged to others, the law includes the following requirements:
  • Smart meter data is only used for legitimate purposes such as utility service, grid management, or energy efficiency programs;
  • The dissemination of smart meter data is restricted to those purposes;
  • Third parties with whom the City contracts are subject to similar restrictions; and
  • The data shall not be sold, and shall be protected using industry best practices.
Seattle City Light began installing smart meters in the homes of new residential customers in 2016, and expects to have the entire system is installed by 2019.