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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

7th Circuit Upholds Smart Meter Program Against Constitutional Challenge

A group of concerned citizens sued the City of Naperville claiming that the City's smart meter program constituted an illegal search under both the U.S. and Illinois constitutions. Specifically, the citizens argued that the City's collection of data and recording of energy consumption levels at individual homes through the smart meters reveals "intimate personal details of the City's electric customers." The district court had dismissed the complaint and denied the citizens request to amend their complaint. The citizens appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In a recent decision, the Seventh Circuit found that (1) the smart meter program was a search under the constitution but that (2) the search was reasonable. Naperville Smart Meter Awareness v. City of Naperville, 7th Cir. Aug. 16, 2018.

In determining that the smart meter program was a search, the Seventh Circuit looked at the type of data the program collected. Specifically, the smart meter program collected data at 15 minute intervals, and that data could be used by law enforcement to conclude that an occupant was, for example, using halide lights to grow marijuana based on the amount of energy coming from the home. 

The court did not stop the analysis there, however, Although the program constituted a "search," if that search was "reasonable," then the City could collect the data without a warrant. In this case, although residents have a privacy interest in their energy consumption data, the data is not collected for "prosecutorial intent." Moreover, the City's interest in collecting the data through the smart meter program was in furtherance of the City's modernization of the electrical grid, an important government interest of both the City and the federal government. Monitoring energy consumption is important in reducing outages and strain on the energy grid, as well as reducing costs to consumers, among other important government interests. The court rejected the citizens' argument that the search was unreasonable in this case because the City requires installation of smart meters. 

In sum, although the City's smart meter program was considered a "search," the court found that it was a reasonable one and does not require a warrant.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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