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he Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) in California is capturing people’s private utility data and handing it over to local law enforcement without a warrant or even the suspicion of wrongdoing, alleges a new lawsuit.
SMUD, the suit claims, is scouring entire zip codes’ worth of private data and using it to create leads for police to pursue particularly Asian homeowners, says the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the law firm Vallejo, Antolin, Agarwal and Kanter LLP, which filed the suit on behalf of the Asian American Liberation Network, a Sacramento-based nonprofit, and Khurshid Khoja, an Asian resident of Sacramento and cannabis industry attorney.
“SMUD’s policies claim that ‘privacy is fundamental’ and that it ‘strictly enforces privacy safeguards,’ but in reality, its standard practice has been to hand over its extensive trove of customer data whenever police request it,” says EFF staff attorney Saira Hussain.
“Doing so violates utility customers’ privacy rights under state law and the California Constitution while disproportionately subjecting Asian and Asian American communities to police scrutiny.”
Utility data can be analyzed to determine what kinds of activities are taking place inside a home, especially when “smart” systems are involved. Smart meters allow for such data to be transferred automatically at regular increments straight to utility companies, which in this case is then passed on to police.
“As that data accumulates over time, it can provide inferences about private daily routines such as what devices are being used, when they are in use, and how this changes over time,” one report explains. (Related: Smart meters have been shown to damage the heart.)