They are called smart meters. In essence, a smart meter is an electronic utility meter which sends wireless (RF) data transmissions in order to save utility companies the costs of using human meter readers. While cost effective for power, water, and natural gas providers, there is anecdotal evidence emerging that some people are suffering adverse health effects from this technology. Some of the alleged symptoms include “agitation, dizziness, fatigue, forgetfulness, headaches, interrupted sleep, leg cramps, ringing in the ears, and skin rashes.” Additionally, an upcoming documentary purports to show observable physiological effects from the smart meter’s RF signals. A simple YouTube search with show that many grass roots activists have assembled evidence which speaks to the potential dilatory health effects of the smart meters. The PBS Newshour has also addressed the subject.
In the wake of these concerns the Public Utility Commission of Texas has recently released plans for an opt-out program for consumers who don’t want the smart meters on their homes. But Texans opting-out will have to pay not only a one-time fee but also a recurring monthly fee to avoid this potential danger to their health. Of course the Texas opt-out program is preferable to what happened earlier this year in Naperville, Illinois where two mothers were arrested for attempting to resist the forced installation of a smart meter.
If the potential health effects of the smart meters weren’t bad enough, the Boston Globe noted that there are also privacy concerns as the smart meters collect usage data from customers which could surreptitiously be sold by the utilities for profit. National Geographic has reported that the European Union’s watchdog group has fear that the smart meters can be used to detect if residents “are away on holiday or at work, if someone uses a specific medical device or a baby-monitor, how they like to spend their free time and so on.” Additionally, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has formulated a report which states that as smart meters “collect more granular, detailed, and potentially personal information, this information may reveal business activities, manufacturing procedures, and personal activities in a given location.”
Smart meters are quickly becoming the subject of legal actions on a number of fronts. At least one mass tort lawsuit has been filed over the health effects of smart meters in California.(The complaint can be found here.) Another class action in Texas alleged the smart meters have been used to fraudulently inflate utility bills in low-income areas. In North Bend, Washington, an electrical engineer and his wife have sued for invasion of privacy regarding the smart meters’ data collection capabilities. And finally, smart meter law suit is also underway in Canada against Vancouver power provider BC Hydro.
Given the situation, it is important for not only the general public but for attorneys to monitor what develops on the issue of smart meters.