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Be smart: choose for opt-in!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

In February 2011, the Dutch Senate adopted a revised, more privacy-friendly legislative proposal on the introduction of 'smart energy meters'. But does this really enhance the protection of citizens' privacy? Dr. Jaap-Henk Hoepman of the Radboud University Nijmegen puts this in doubt and advocates for opt-in instead of opt-out
[translated by Privacy First from the original article in Dutch]

‘‘In the legislative act, the following things have changed: smart meters are no longer compulsory and refusing a smart meter is no longer an economic crime. Monitoring energy consumption continuously is no longer allowed. This is only allowed when making an invoice, in the event of relocation or where technical management is due. When moving to a house where a smart meter is already installed, you can request to have the meter turned off ‘administratively’. The distribution network operator is obliged to accept this request. Basically an administratively disabled meter behaves like a traditional, ‘dumb’ meter. This sounds hopeful.  

However, the extent to which ‘administratively turned off’ in practice truly does mean ‘turned off’ still depends on further requirements that will be imposed on smart meters. Of course there’s a big difference between a meter that never passes on information and a meter that does so every once in a while even though the information is then being ignored by the distribution network operator. Administratively turned off could also mean that the operator promises not to make a request for information to the meter. But what if someone else does this instead? And what if operators are required by law enforcement agencies to make a request for information to the meter after all? Would the meter simply respond to it? A ‘dumb’ meter would never do such a thing...

In my view a greater objection is the opt-out character of the law. A consumer is allowed to request for the smart meter to be disabled. It would have been better to make that into an opt-in rule. When a smart meter is delivered and whenever a relocation takes place the meter is automatically turned off. Consumers can then request for the smart meter to be administratively turned on.  

Citizens are not in a position to choose not to use systems such as smart meters, an electronic toll system or the Electronic Health Record which have been introduced by the government. Therefore a great deal of responsibility to protect citizens against abuse lies with the government. The default state should therefore be a good protection of privacy. And opt-in should be the norm. Be smart: choose for opt-in!’’  

Dutch source: Jaap-Henk Hoepman's blog, 'Opt-in, da's pas slim',, 11 April 2011.