7th Circuit decides collection of electricity data constitutes a search and rejects third-party doctrine claim.

The Seventh Circuit decided an interesting case in a non-criminal context that Carpenter applies to things such as the monitoring of electricity use in one’s home. This helps any lawyer who wants to argue that Carpenter is not limited solely to CSLI.

Here, the City of Naperville owns and operates a public utility that provides electricity to the city’s residents. The utility collects residents’ energy-consumption data at short intervals, storing the data for up to three years.

Here, citing Carpenter, the Seventh Circuit held that the collection of smart-meter data at fifteen-minute intervals constitutes a search for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment. They found that the technology-assisted data collection is at least as rich as that found to be a search in Kyllo (thermal imaging). This is because the data will reveal “when people are home, when people are away, when people sleep and eat, what types of appliances are in the home, and when those appliances are used.”

They found that smart meters are no exception to the general principal that “technological development carries serious privacy implications.”

Naperville argued that this data is part of the third party doctrine, for which the Seventh Circuit disagreed because the only choice then by the consumer is to not use electricity.

The case is Naperville Smart Meter Awareness v. City of Naperville, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 22834, 2018 WL 3913080 (7th Cir.) (August 16).

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