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Planned Smart Electric Meters On Long Island Draw Fears About Privacy, Radiation

JERICHO, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Power is going high-tech on Long Island, as PSEG rolls out a new way of measuring electricity use.

But as CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, some are worried that the new meters might be invading their privacy.

The analog electric meters that have been around for decades will soon be a thing of the past on Long Island. Homes there are hooking up to smart meters, which wirelessly transmit utility use to PSEG Long Island.

The smart meters phase out meter readers, and enable customers to monitor their usage, according to advocates.

"We are trying to eliminate the estimated meter reads so people can have a more accurate and real-time understanding of what their usage is," said PSEG Long Island spokesman Jeff Weir.

But some Long Island residents, including Rosanne Spinner of New Hyde Park, want no part of the high-tech upgrade.

Spinner said the plan "sounds smart – OK, let's do that," but actually is "not smart." She has joined the nationwide opposition to smart meters.

At issue is privacy. Smart meters measure electricity used and what time of day -- transmitting information about when appliances are in use and when they are not.

"A criminal wants to know when you're home or when you're not home. A criminal wants to know what's going on in the bedroom upstairs – or a weirdo wants to know -- whoever," Spinner said. "It's un-American."

Weir insisted that hackers will not be getting into strangers' electrical data.

"All of that data is encrypted and protected from any type of a hack," he said.

PSEG also dismisses health concerns, citing national studies.

"A smart meter emits less radio frequencies than, say, a cell phone – which is right against your head -- and a microwave oven," Weir said.

But an environmental health watchdog said scientists are divided on the safety.

"The radiation coming out of a smart meter is a constant exposure. It's not a device that you own and you are actually limiting your expose from by turning it off," said Patti Wood, director of Grassroots Environmental Education.

PSEG will not install a smart meter without a customer's knowledge, and customers will have the chance to opt out.

PSEG Long Island plans to install 40,000 smart meters in the next three years for anyone changing or getting new service.

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