What my power company had to say about my power usage (UK)

  Added by: snoofer  Last edited by: snoofer  Viewed: 419 times  Rated by 6 users: 9.17/10
Contributed by: plant
Thanks to: Ganja lawyer, Lothar
Submitted: February 4th, 2005

"Dear sir/madam,
I'm writing a report for my business law class concerning the Amnesty International UK (AIUK) and power companies. There have been numerous complaints around the country in the past six months stating that power companies are voluntarily reporting what they deem to be "abnormally high" power usage to law enforcement agencies. The law enforcement agencies then use this information to go into residences to search for illegal activities.

The AIUK is currently acting on these claims because they are a direct violation of the 4th Amendment. I am currently gathering information from various electric companies around the country about their privacy policies or lack thereof."

Answer from power company:

If you require an official/legal answer to these questions I will happily forward these questions to our legal department but, I am willing to briefly answer them all as they are all covered in the Data Protection act of 1998 which I recommend you read to clarify your concerns.

Does (my power company) have a privacy policy?
1. (my electric company) DOES have a privacy policy which is specifically designed to protect our customers and their details. We are also bound by the aforementioned Data Protection Act of 1998.

If so, does it state that (my power company) will not
divulge customer information (power usage, personal information, etc.)
to any outside party without a proper warrant?

2. NO personal data will be divulged to anyone outside of our organisation without the specific permission of the Customer; with a warrant; or a specific order from a Government Agency, again as covered by the Data Protection Act of 1998. If you read this it specifically states (under the Subject Access Request section) that any personal data may only be retrieved
for the person it pertains to or a Government Agency (such as the Police) who occasionally request such data.

If not, does (my power company) voluntarily report
"abnormal" power usage to law enforcement agencies without provocation?

3. I can assure you that (my electric company) DOES NOT, under any circumstances, monitor and report our 6 Million customers power consumption for anything other than OUR business requirements (we are busy enough as it is!).

For the VERY VERY limited occasions/situations when we are asked to supply information to a Government agency we only respond to the questions asked, most likely examples being: tracing missing persons or deducing the occupier of a house in a specific time period in Rent disputes.

There is more information readily available on (my electric companies website) or alternatively the OFGEM web site (The Office of Gas & Electricity Markets) the government sponsored watchdog for the Utilities industry may offer you more information.

More on power consumption and privacy rights:

(Ganja Lawyer)
....the Privacy Act and 4th Amendment protects utility companies from LEO searches w/o probable cause. (in the US) Except I had heard in some places utility records are PUBLIC- giving LEO (and everybody else) access...
if such matters WERE available to the general public then it would also be available to LEO (w/o a warrant).

Unlike the US, Canadian hydro companies are bound by a contractural privacy agreement not to disclose anything to the police without a warrant. Meter readers who try and rat out suspicious usage houses can be fired for this.

They don't "red flag" anyone unless the usage is suddenly jumped up by like 300% - in that case, they phone you to make sure you know about it.

They will also contact you if you suddenly start using dangerous amounts of electricity, as though you have reached the 85%+ of your house\'s rated amperage.

Other than that, they don't care.

As for warrants, the police must obtain a warrant for the electrical usage first, and then a warrant for your house, but the Supreme Court ruled long ago that even electrical usage of 3-400% compared to similar dwellings in the neighborhood is "suspicious only\" and not grounds to search.
Police.. are currently trying to coordinate with the hydro companies, insurance companies . are mainly concerned with hydro theft.

The hydro companies are often slow to detect the theft, and that's why you can get away with it for a year or so. They are hoping to get them on board to investigate suspicious activities like local power drains sooner, and they are happy to do this since hydro theft is such an expense and hassle.

(Power theft) .is a crime and they will report that to their inspectors if they can't get a reasonable explanation, or at least have you acknowledge that you are now actually using the power.

Sudden jumps in (large) power usage might be flagged, also sudden reductions in power...Raising usage gradually is easy and you might as well just to be safe.

[Editors note:
In Canada, LEO often will obtain a search warrant for power consumption history for a suspected residence, then to prove the power consumption is suspiciously high, they also legally obtain records for nearby residences as a baseline comparison. Obviously, if you are down the block from a big op, they just might discover your abnormally high power consumption in their investigation.]
  Last modified: 23:25 - Feb 15, 2005 

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