Smart meters could become a spy in the home by allowing social workers and health authorities to monitor households, adding to concern at
Britain's surveillance society.
The devices, which the government plans to install in every home by 2020, will also tell energy firms what sort of appliances are being used, allowing companies to target customers who do not reduce their energy consumption.
Privacy campaigners have expressed horror at the proposalss, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) says there is theoretically scope... for using the smart metering communications infrastructure to enable a variety of other
services, such as monitoring of vulnerable householders by health authorities or social services departments.
It adds: Information from smart meters could also make it possible for a supplier to determine when electricity or gas was being used in a property and, to a degree, the types of technology that were being used within the property. This could
be used to target energy efficiency advice and offers of measures, social programmes etc to householders.
Guy Herbert, general secretary of NO2ID, said: Information from smart meters might be useful to energy providers and perhaps even their customers, but there's no reason for any public authority to have access to it - unless they've a warrant to
do so. This document is a prime example of government efforts to shoehorn data sharing and feature creep into every new policy. For example, it suggests that NHS or social services could use the system to monitor 'vulnerable householders', or that
companies could use the system to spam customers with adverts for their services - having paid the government for the privilege, no doubt.
The DECC document adds households could even have their power to some appliances turned off remotely to help the national grid if there is too much demand. It says: In terms of potentially intrusive non-physical behaviour unrelated to data,
smart metering potentially offers scope for remote intervention such as dynamic demand management, which is designed to assist management of the network and thus security of supply. This could involve direct supplier or distribution company
interface with equipment, such as refrigerators, within a property, overriding the control of the householder.
The Information Commissioner's Office said it had already discussed the issue of smart meters with some suppliers, including Eon, Scottish Power and British Gas. A spokesman said the ICO would continue to maintain a close dialogue to ensure
that their introduction does not compromise customers' privacy . He added: Important issues include what information is stored on the meters themselves, in particular whether information identifying the householder will be held. In any
event energy companies will clearly need to hold records linking meters with householders and all the information must be held in line with the requirements of the Data Protection Act.