They are the mini-computers being installed in 30m UK homes and businesses in an £11bn programme that will allow the energy companies to remotely monitor our gas and electricity usage. But could smart meters also become the new spies in our homes, raising fresh fears about a surveillance society as they track our daily activities?
Campaigners in France, where a similar installation programme is taking place, think so. On holiday in Bordeaux recently I was struck by posters advertising a demo called “Stop Linky”. Linky is the name of French utility giant EDF’s new smart meter, but it has sparked a more vociferous backlash than here. “Dites NON! aux compteurs communicants LINKY,” posters shouted ahead of a demo in mid-June, with others planned around the country.
Lawyers for Stop Linky are preparing a class action against EDF and its subsidiary Enedis, which is implementing the programme. Lawyer Arnaud Durand claims smart meters pose health and privacy issues. He calls them a “Trojan horse’” that could harvest vast amounts of data about our activities. Even rudimentary information has commercial value. “For example, a telemarketing company will know if it’s a good moment to call your house.”
In Britain, privacy campaigners share their fears. Guy Herbert of NO2ID says: “Smart meters are presented as an environmental and power-saving initiative. But it’s a highly surveillant model. It can tell how many showers you have had, when you are cooking, when you are in and out of the home.”