They’re being touted as the next big step forward, a welcome technological advancement to make life easier for homeowners and utility companies alike.

Self-reading, so-called “smart” electric meters that automatically report outages, calculate usage and suggest ways for customers to save on their energy bills are already being used in many states across the nation, and they could soon begin to show up in New Jersey.

But there’s a potentially disturbing dark side to this rosy picture.

The smart electric meter can tell when you’re home and when you’re away, what electronic device you have plugged in and how much you’re using them. And some worry that information could be used to invade people’s privacy, perhaps giving or selling the information to who knows who.

“We all have experienced with our smart phones how we are being tracked, and my concern is ... these smart — I’ll call them ‘spy’ — electric meters are coming to a home near you,” said New Jersey Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Ocean).

He’s sponsoring a measure that would require utilities disclose the type of information they collect with smart meters, how it will be used and who will be given access to it.

“What’s coming to a home near you is the spying, the harvesting and the profiting to a third party. Just follow the money on these smart meters," he said.

He added “the technology is there. I know from research done on this issue, they will begin collecting the data from your personal home, they’ll know when you are at home and when you’re out.”

He said with a smart meter a company will know when you’ve got your television or laptop on, or any other device, and how long you actually use it.

Dancer said this is a Fourth Amendment Constitutional issue.

“The Fourth Amendment protects the illegal search and seizure of our personal property within our home. It’s time that New Jersey wakes up about the potential of these smart spy electric meters coming to your home," Dancer said.

In New Jersey, the only utility currently installing any residential smart meters is Rockland Electric in parts of Bergen and Passaic Counties.

According to Board of Public Utilities spokesman Peter Peretzman, only Rockland Electric has been authorized to install a limited number of the devices as part of a multi-year study, so the technology can be evaluated.

A prepared statement by Rockland Electric describes smart meters as safe, secure and reliable, designed to give customers greater convenience and control of how they use electricity.

Representatives of PSE&G and JCP&L said they do not have plans to seek regulatory approval at this time to install smart meters.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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