This post was written by Cynthia O’Donoghue.

The Article 29 Working Party (A29WP) adopted the Opinion on Data Protection Impact Template Assessment for Smart Grid and Smart Metering Systems (Opinion), which evaluates the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) template that the member states intend to adopt. The PIA, which was prepared by industry representatives, seeks to ensure that smart-meter operators comply with data protection rules; however, the A29WP pointed out a number of inadequacies in the template.

The EU initiative to roll out smart gas and electricity meters, which can send usage data via remote communications, underpins the desire for a more effective and efficient energy supply. In the Opinion, the A29WP points out the risk that smart-meter usage data may be used to infer information about “consumers’ use of specific goods or devices, daily routines, living arrangements, activities, lifestyles and behaviour.”

The energy supply industry expert group developed the PIA to ensure that smart-meter operators comply with data protection rules, and to facilitate compliance assessments by Data Protection Authorities, as well as to provide information to consumers.

The PIA template contains an eight-step impact assessment and provides step-by-step guidance on how to carry it out. The A29WP admitted the proposed template contains useful elements, but criticised the failure to include any method of directly assessing the foreseeable impacts on the data subjects, including the risk of price discrimination or criminal acts facilitated by unauthorised profiling. The A29WP also felt the PIA template confused risks and threats, and failed to match specific risks to controls based on best practice. Other criticism included that the PIA template lacked sufficient guidance on the concepts of vulnerability, calculating and prioritising risks, choosing appropriate mitigating controls, and appropriately allocating data protection responsibilities between the different stakeholders. The A29WP also recommended including an analysis of industry-specific risks and relevant controls.

The A29WP acknowledged that the industry expert group is preparing ‘best available techniques’ that may address some of the criticisms, but it would wait to see the techniques included within the PIA template before it is resubmitted for a further opinion.