by Juliane Schiemenz, spiegel.de | view original article
Our take: This Spiegel.de article introduces the events and issues surrounding ‘smart’ meters to many Germans who are still unaware. The privacy issue is the focus of almost all of the 150+ comments. TBYP director Josh del Sol, lawyer Chris Turner, and politician Acqunetta Anderson are interviewed. The article is translated below.
New, intelligent electric power meters collect detailed household information wherever they are installed. Angry US citizens are fighting the “Smart Meter”. They are afraid of surveillance and radiation exposure – and politically they are gaining ground.
When Chris Turner from Washington, DC wants to go to bed at night, he leaves his living room and heads out into his garden to sleep in his trailer. For a year and a half he has refused to sleep inside his house. The reason for this is attached to the exterior wall of his house: a so-called Smart Meter, an intelligent power meter. This smart meter measures Turner’s energy consumption, recording the smallest details and it can divine certain information: When is someone at home? Which appliances are being used? Which TV program is Turner watching? Chris Turner feels like he is under surveillance.
The 48 year old lawyer would dearly like to rip the meter off the wall and replace it with his old analogue meter. But that is not permitted. The Smart Meter was installed without Turner’s approval. “I was travelling for a month during the summer of 2012 and when I returned people told me Smart Meters had been installed”, he explains. “Then my power bill increased. It was strange.” He contacted his power company and by coincidence found out, “that there were people everywhere in the USA, Canada and Australia who were complaining about rising power usage billing, fires and health problems after Smart Meter installations.”
Tin Foil Hats?
Turner also says that he is suffering from health issues since the installation. He complains of headaches, tinnitus and has trouble sleeping. He blames this on the electromagnetic radiation emitting from the Smart Meter pulsing every few seconds to transmit data to the power utility company. Turner didn’t want to sleep anywhere close to this thing. He started staying overnight at friends’ houses provided they did not have a Smart Meter installed and several times he slept in his tent in his yard. In the fall he finally purchased a trailer.
The silver trailer parked on Turner’s meadow looks like a UFO. It would be easy to right off the lawyer as a paranoid conspirator who presumably makes tin foil hats to protect himself from the radiation – were it not for the fact that to date there is no proof of damage to a person’s health resulting from electromagnetic smog. But Turner is part of a country wide movement. On his website he rants against the state electric utility company Pepco, he distributes flyers at political events and he supports other activists with his legal skills.
The Anti-Smart Meter movement is growing as quickly as the Smart Meter network. In the meantime it now has it’s own film, “Take Back Your Power” by the director Josh del Sol. The filmmaker is documenting the work of activists, he is interviewing experts and is trying, albeit in vain, to get the power companies to comment. Josh del Sol, who lives near Seattle, presumes that close to a million people are a part of this resistance movement throughout North America and that there are activist coalitions in more than 40 states. “Some regions are really active”, says del Sol, “for example in British Columbia where there are 1.8 million households, 200,000 have prevented a Smart Meter installation.
“Why is this issue not being discussed anywhere?”
Del Sol, a past web designer, explains that he asked himself, “ Why is this issue not being discussed anywhere?” He started conducting interviews together with a cameraman. “I myself, through this process became an activist.”
In Europe there is also resistance to intelligent meters. In some European countries like Italy or Sweden these new meters have been installed for some time – and with the arrival of the meters the fight to get rid of them. In the Netherlands the installation was halted because they bumped up against privacy protection laws. In Germany to date there are only pilot projects. According to a study by Ernst and Young (PDF) commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Economics, it would not make sense to blanket the entire country with the new meters. It would make more sense in the future to furnish heavy power consumers with Smart Meters.
In the USA there is a growing fight between the pro-Smart Meter factions and people opposing this technology. Anyone resisting a meter installation in Washington DC is starting to feel the pressure. The electric utility company Pepco has a monopoly when it comes to power distribution. Few politicians are addressing this issue. A local politician Acqunetta Anderson is one of the few. In December 2013 she began to receive calls from concerned citizens living in her riding, “One week before Christmas,” she explains, “Pepco decided to send out letters to private customers. In these letters the company stated: Customers preventing Pepco from accessing their property and installing Smart Meters may have their power cut off .” Anderson contacted Pepco behind the scenes and the power company relented.
Doors Kicked In
Pepco is not the only electricity provider that is getting nasty when citizens are resisting. Videos are circulating on the Internet showing power company employees are forcing their way into houses and onto private property. On occasion employees kick a door down, another scene depicts police protecting a meter installer from the homeowner. Of course this touches the basic sense of propriety shared by many US citizens: They would still like to determine what is happening on their land and soil and with their own private property.
Chris Turner will hardly be able to prevent the blanketing roll out of this technology across the US- he knows that. So he is working to at least achieve a so-called Opt Out clause in Washington DC: Citizens should be able to retain their analogue meter without having to pay a fee. One block away from Turner’s house this is possible: In the part of Washington which does not belong to the District of Columbia but rather to the State of Maryland, citizens can decide against a Smart Meter and keep their old device. This choice is quite officially anchored in the State decrees. The Anti-Smart Meter activists of Maryland fought for this.
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