Court Says MuckRock Must Take Down Smart Grid Company's Documents Because Judge Has 'No Time' To Review Case Properly

from the ain't-nobody-got-time-to-consider-free-speech-implications dept

Last week, we covered a multinational corporation's attempt to force MuckRock to take down documents supplied by the city of Seattle to Phil Mocek. Landis+Gyr, which was awarded the contract to supply the city with "smart meters" in conjunction with the publicly-owned utility, claimed the documents released -- along with documents the city was planning to release -- would be a boon to competitors and terrorists, although it didn't specify which of these it was more worried about.

The company also demanded MuckRock turn over information on site users who may have seen or downloaded the documents. It also (hilariously) demanded MuckRock assist it in the "retrieval" of disseminated documents.

The company's request for an injunction against MuckRock and the city of Seattle went before a judge on Thursday. It has been (partially) granted. Ansel Herz of The Stranger says, after speaking to Landis+Gyr reps, that the judge granted its request -- not on its merits but because there just aren't enough hours in the day.

At a King County court hearing yesterday, Commissioner Carlos Velategui granted the companies' request for a temporary restraining order, lawyers for the companies told me. "There's no way that I can spend the time to look at all this," Velategui said. Neither Mocek nor the city showed up to defend themselves.

The request was filed on the 23rd and granted on the 26th. That's an impressive turn radius for government machinery. This compressed timeframe likely explains the court's harried decision, as well as the lack of defendants in the courtroom.

MuckRock will be fighting the order, but it will now have help. The EFF has stepped in to represent MuckRock and Mocek against Landis+Gyr (Update: Mocek notes in our comments that EFF has only offered to help MuckRock so far). The documents MuckRock is currently unable to provide to the public can be found here: L+G Managed Services Report and L+G Security Overview (in case you want a copy).

Landis+Gyr may have achieved the first step in its plan to herd its PDF cats back into the bag, but its complaint should have been limited to the government organization that released the documents it claims are sensitive, rather than the FOIA requester and clearinghouse that received them. And, trade secrets or not, the company is working in conjunction with a city government to install devices with possible privacy implications on every home -- so more transparency, not less, is exactly what's needed.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 6:40am

    these so-called 'Smart Meters' are a total waste of time! they dont do a damn thing to save energy at all. they have one actionable function and that is to let you know what appliances are actually being used at any one time, so, if you are cooking dinner while the husband watches the big game on tv, the washing machine is going and the eldest is in the bath getting her best face and frock on, which of them are you supposed to shut off? exactly! none of them! all you will gain is the knowledge that those appliances are running and the time they are running and perhaps if the meters are really smart, how much energy they use. and that is provided they have been programed correctly with the real price of the energy in question!! just another con that someone has been 'encouraged' to push forward while stacking their own 'energy meter'!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AJ, 31 May 2016 @ 6:49am

      Re:

      "they dont do a damn thing to save energy at all"

      They were not designed to save energy, they were designed to collect data. This is one of the very few ways the Gov. can get inside your home. You would be amazed at what you can tell about someone, and that someone's family, by simply understanding their power usage.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        I.T. Guy, 31 May 2016 @ 7:22am

        Re: Re:

        They pushed for them so they could shut you off remotely instead of a guy stopping by to remove the meter and put little plastic pieces on the tabs.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Chris-Mouse (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 6:50am

      Re:

      Around here, smart meters have been used to push through a hidden hike in the price of electricity. How? They were supposed to work by allowing the utility to charge more for peak power use, encouraging people to put off large power useage to off-peak times when the rates would be lower.
      The sneaky part was that the off-peak "lower" rate was set to exactly the same as the previous flat rate. This means that if you push all of your power use to off peak periods, you pay exactly the same as before the smart meter was installed. If you use any electricity at all during the peak hours, you end up paying more.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        AJ, 31 May 2016 @ 7:08am

        Re: Re:

        I'm going to be building myself a house soon. I'm keeping it fairly compact 1600 SQFT. I'm spending 15K for a solar system to power it. I can't disconnect it from the grid altogether, but I can reduce my consumption to next to nothing. I figure it will take 4-5 years or so for it to pay for itself. The systems usually last for 10 years before you start having minor maintenance, up to 25 for a whole system replacement.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 7:37am

          Re: Re: Re:

          A Quick note, but without battery backup, solar power only generates power during the day, while for most households, maximum use is at night. Unless you are in during the day to use the power, or you can sell it to the power company, a solar system may not give you the benefit of free power.
          On the other hand, a solar water heating system generates hot water for later use, and may be a better buy if you are not about during the day to use the power.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            AJ, 31 May 2016 @ 7:45am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "A Quick note, but without battery backup, solar power only generates power during the day"

            My wife and I both work from home, our peak usage is actually during the day. In any event; We will have a fairly robust battery bank, if that is not enough, we will draw from the grid or even possibly a generator... just not sure how cost effective a generator would be as a backup to a solar system. I can spend up to 25K on the system all told, so if I needed a better battery bank or generator it wouldn't be out of the question.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 8:27am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              If you have a grid tied system, it will shut-down when the grid goes away, for its safety (trying to feed houses attached to the same wires, or the short circuit that caused the disconnection), and that of any linesmen trying to fix the fault.
              Unless you are generating enough power all year round to supply your needs, (unless bad weather reduces the light levels), ignore the battery option, as it is expensive, and unless well maintained will have a short life. Also, if the grid is connected, a proper changeover system is needed to allow a battery system and a non tied inverter, or generator to take over the house load.
              As a general rule, and ignoring any subsidies for solar panels, the local grid is almost always the cheapest source of power. Only consider a generator if you are going full off grid, or you want a small generator to keep critical loads running. Keeping a freezer running can save more that the cost of a small generator).

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              John Fenderson (profile), 1 Jun 2016 @ 10:21am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "just not sure how cost effective a generator would be as a backup to a solar system."

              A friend of mine has his house completely disconnected from the electrical grid. Here's his experience with the cost of the backup generator.

              First, he does not go out of his way to avoid using electricity -- he has and uses all the appliances you'd expect, although his water heater and stove are propane-powered, not electric.

              He is using two solar panels for his electricity. I forget their output, but they are undersized for what he's doing. He also runs a propane-powered backup generator with a large, fixed propane tank (like you see at gas stations). His tank lasts him a little over a year, and costs around $1,000 to fill.

              He computed that adding two more panels would reduce his propane usage by about 30%.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                John Fenderson (profile), 1 Jun 2016 @ 10:23am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                He does also keep a battery bank, but it is limited in size. He usually gets about halfway through the night before it is depleted.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Whoever, 31 May 2016 @ 9:43am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            A Quick note, but without battery backup, solar power only generates power during the day, while for most households, maximum use is at night.

            Perhaps for households this is true, but for the grid as a whole it is not. Even as far north as the UK, electricity use is much greater during the day. In CA, peak usage of electricity is mid-afternoon.

            So, what you need, is to live in a state that mandates net energy metering. This means that when your solar system is producing more than you are using, you sell that surplus to the utility and then at night you buy it back (with a smart meter, you can sell at a high price and buy back at a low price).

            Nevada just stopped net energy metering and the solar companies in Nevada shut down the next day. California is currently grandfathering in solar installations for 20 years of net energy metering.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 7:13am

      Re:

      More like it's supposed to control things you don't actively use, like your dishwasher, water heater, refrigerator, and freezer. By starting those in the energy heavy cycles when it's cheaper it's supposed to save you money. It's primary purpose however, was to give them the ability to read your meter remotely, control it remotely, and remotely detect outages so they get a better map of them, and a faster response time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Paraquat (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 7:47am

        Re: Re:

        > things you don't actively use, like your
        > dishwasher, water heater, refrigerator, and freezer

        The "smart meters" do nothing, except make you pay more. The cheaper rate is applied "off-peak" ie when people are normally sleeping, generally around midnight to 5 am or thereabouts. A dishwasher with timer might make sense, except that I never use the dishwasher at all since I don't have one. The refrigerator and freezer...are you kidding? Do you only use your fridge between midnight and 5 am, and the rest of the time you want it shut off? Good luck with the food poisoning. As for the water heater, I use it when I take a shower, so I wouldn't appreciate it being shut off at 10 PM or so which is about when I bathe.

        The vast majority (probably 90%) of the electricity I use is when I'm awake, which generally is not midnight to 5 am. That's true for almost everybody, other than serious insomniacs who stay up all night watching TV. You don't use much power when you're sleeping, since the lights will be off and you won't be showering or running the microwave oven or computer or TV, etc. Of course, the refrigerator/freezer will still run all night, but it will use less power since you won't be opening/closing the door. If it's hot maybe you'll have an electric fan running next to your bed, but how does the "smart meter" help you with that? You turn on the fan when you're hot, or the heater when you're cold, smart meter be damned.

        I'm all for saving power, but a "smart meter" is a pretty dumb idea.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 7:07am

    So the company has basically said that it works with the local government to place "smart meters" in houses that make the city more vulnerable to terrorism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 7:27am

    > And, trade secrets or not, ...

    The operative word is "not". They've been made public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 8:11am

    "There's no way that I can spend the time to look at all this," Velategui said.

    That is a gross violation of the due process clause of the constitution. He ruled against Muckrock because he didn't have time to review the case? What the FUCK?

    There's no way in hell that this will survive a challenge on appeal. This judge is fucking incompetent and he should be removed from the bench. Muckruck should file a complaint with the Chief Administrative Judge, that oversees that particular court. Simply because this idiot judge violated Muckruck's due process rights. It's an ethical violation of the rule of law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 8:24am

      Re:

      I believe it is traditional for courts that, if one party is a no-show, then the other party will win almost without regard to the merits of their arguments (or lack thereof). However, this judge certainly did not help his reputation by saying something so flippant to justify his ruling. Moreover, it is fairly common for due process violations not to result in the judge being disciplined in any meaningful way.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 4:50pm

        Re: Re:

        And if that party is a no show because they don't live in his area of control?
        Perhaps he should have availed himself of reading where they were located before deciding they didn't show up to spite him, and that perhaps getting a flight and representation in under 3 days across the country might be considered to be undue burden.

        He'll get reversed and everyone will pretend nothing really bad happened, just a few alleged rights trampled because a corporation said jump and the Judge did just that, not even pretending that he represents the law or actual justice.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 8:28am

    WTF. Hopefully this gets overturned on appeal. Good to see the EFF is joining the case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 8:38am

    he can't be bothered to do his job and yet he is not removed from the case despite it breaking several basic rights.

    why is the man a judge?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 9:11am

    How big is the bag?

    Landis+Gyr may have achieved the first step in its plan to herd its PDF cats back into the bag...
    At the current rate of multiplication, aren't these more like "PDF rabbits"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 9:12am

    AC, that's what I keep asking. This judge is incompetent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Phil Mocek, 31 May 2016 @ 9:56am

    correction

    correction: EFF are representing MuckRock, but have not offered to represent me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2016 @ 5:42am

      Re: correction

      If you need representation, have you tried contacting Ken White over at Popehat?

      He has a history of putting up the "Popehat Signal" for people facing First Amendment lawsuits.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 10:58am

    "There's no way that I can spend the time to look at all this"

    WOW! Doesn't that make his red blood blue!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous coward #n+1, 31 May 2016 @ 1:31pm

    Relevant to the "didn't show up", I believe Phil has said that he has not been served formal notice of the lawsuit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NoahVail (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 2:07pm

    Also available via Torrent

    Just noting MuckRock's entire archive can be d/l (slow) or torrented here
    https://archive.org/details/MuckRock

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2016 @ 6:32pm

    I don't care how many pages of documents there are. Surely the party asking for an injunction can point to ONE clear-cut example of something that should not be released. If they can't do that, then too bad for them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 31 May 2016 @ 8:31pm

    When you try to frame the discussion in a certain way, the judge's comments look very bad. However, taken in a more realistic context, you get this:

    The judge doesn't have the time to read all that is in the case, and erring on the side of harm reduction, has ordered an injunction until the case is heard further. The balance between lost free speech and unrepairable harm is important. Taking a week or longer to read through all of the case and consider all of it at this stage isn't going to fix harm that may be done. The loss of free speech in this case is temporary, the harm created if the speech isn't legal is forever. The judge got the balance right, and the two parties can head to court for a fuller hearing with plenty of time to review the material without adding harm.

    It's even more of a no brainer when one party doesn't show up. The judge made the right decision, you may not like it, but it's the one that gets the best long term results.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2016 @ 10:13am

    I don't really care about the meters..

    But those reports are BS.. "No Exceptions Noted" in any category. Also, this freakin gem:
    RSA Laboratories’ security solution is a non-proprietary and scalable solution with a proven track record of securing network transactions in a variety of industries. The main components of the RSA solution include providing cryptographic functionality at the network communications devices and the AMI meters using the BSAFE crypto-library and....

    They go on to talk about HSMs but BSAFE is uh, broken y'all. H/T Snowden.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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