Smart meters – the future of spying?

As several major energy companies continue to rush ahead with installations – British Gas plans to install 2m by the end of this year – there is still no concrete privacy protection in place, nor a clear set of rules about how and when they can be installed – and what rights consumers have to switch them off.

Back in 2009 we warned of the dangers around smart meters and how they could give prying eyes an unprecedented look inside our homes. We welcomed the Energy Minister’s commitment that they would not be compulsory but it is clear that serious issues still exist.

And we’re not the only ones aware of the clandestine value of smart meters connected to smart appliances throughout your home – so is the CIA.

Speaking at an event organised by In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm, CIA Director David Petraeus said:

“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,”

He went on to say how these household spy devices “change our notions of secrecy.” Quite.

An internet of things is the next step in the evolution of the web. A new wave of web-enabled devices, from the latest HD TVs equipped with facial recognition to lightbulbs, will suddenly capture data about our every day lives and broadcast it to the world. Smart meters are the first step in commercialising some of this data, but the real risk is that if we do not put in place proper protection before they go live, the damage to privacy could be unprecedented.