Is Privacy Under Attack from Our California Government?

Privacy is sure a big word in today’s digital society.

Having privacy means we can live our lives in the way we want, without having other people tell us what we should be doing or judging us for the way we behave. Or worse, using what they find out about us to take advantage of us.

We understand the need for our customers to have absolute faith in their right to privacy. That’s why we protect electricity usage information and keep it secure from prying eyes. But it looks like the government may be trying to chip away at businesses’ right to privacy in a way that may impact competitiveness in the marketplace.

A recent law was passed by the California legislature will require utilities to disclose commercial buildings’ energy usage. Now, the intent of this bill – to motivate building owners to operate their holdings in an energy-efficient manner – is not a bad idea. But what legislators did not consider is one serious, unintended, privacy-squashing consequence of the building energy benchmark bill, AB802. We’ve partnered with some of our commercial customers to let state legislators know that publicly exposing a company’s sensitive energy usage data can threaten its competitive edge.

Our area is home to numerous successful, world famous Silicon Valley companies continually researching, innovating, developing and selling some of the best products and technology ever invented. And these companies are fiercely competitive in the best sense of the word, motivating them to be even more creative. What if disclosing their energy usage gives a competitor an unfair advantage? An increase in power usage might signal a hiring surge or the start of testing on a new, secret product.

Data privacy – including energy use data – is vital to success for a competitive business in a world market.

Companies go to great pains to protect their operational data as it reflects greatly on the status of their business such as production increases/slowdowns, shift schedules, retooling, testing cycles and other intelligence factors. Competition demands operational data privacy.

While we don’t know of any plans to force residents to publicly disclose their energy usage, this first step is disturbing to the utility industry and to us in particular. We go to great lengths to protect and secure usage data, especially as advanced meters and the smart grid become a reality. We will continue to oppose any attempt to make anyone’s private energy usage a public record; however our commercial customers also need to remind legislators know that data privacy and competition are mainstays of successful businesses.

Fundamentally, our nation was founded on the establishment and protection of many freedoms, including privacy. Speaking for our customers, it’s a shame when our State government ignores the consequences of degrading this basic right.


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