Sacramento’s public-owned utility and police are searching entire zip codes’ worth of people’s private data without any legal authorization or a specific investigation, creating a mass surveillance program that invades the privacy of entire communities.
The Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s (SMUD) data sharing with the Sacramento Police Department violates people’s right to privacy under the California Constitution and state laws. The data dragnet also disproportionately harms Asian residents in Sacramento, and the targeting of the Asian community appears to be by design.
Energy usage data can provide a detailed picture into people’s activities in a home. And with the mass adoption of smart utility meters, that picture is even more detailed. Recognizing how disclosure of energy data can be so invasive, the California Legislature enacted two privacy laws to protect it. Further, the California Constitution’s search and seizure clause prevents the government from obtaining this data absent reasonable suspicion that customers have violated a law.
Sacramento police and SMUD have failed to comply with the law’s privacy protections. The police have asked SMUD to provide it with bulk lists of private customer energy usage data for years, which the police use to enforce an abusive penalty scheme against owners of properties engaged in residential cultivation of cannabis. The ordinance resulted in the city levying nearly $100 million in fines over just two years to property owners.
The city has assessed the vast majority of the fines—more than 85 percent—against owners of Asian descent. A SMUD analyst avoided searching homes in a predominantly white neighborhood, while a police official removed non-Asian names from one of the lists generated by SMUD before forwarding the information on for further investigation.
In September 2022, EFF and the law firm Vallejo, Antolin, Agarwal, Kanter LLP filed suit against SMUD and the City of Sacramento on behalf of an Asian American community advocacy organization and an individual. The lawsuit seeks a court order stopping SMUD from disclosing the data and preventing the Sacramento police from asking for entire zip codes’ worth of data unless authorities obtain a court order or have a specific ongoing investigation into a particular property.
Read the complaint, press release, and learn more about our clients below.
Meet our clients:
Asian American Liberation Network (AALN) is a Sacramento-area community-based organization originally founded in 2020 as the Sacramento Asian/Pacific Islander Regional Network. AALN's mission is to build power in the Asian American community to advance social justice and collective liberation. Its work includes engaging in anti-racism education, discussing issues of Asian Americans and the justice system, and addressing the harmful impacts of over-policing on the Asian community.
Khurshid Khoja is Sacramento resident who has long been an advocate for the broader Asian community, including by way of serving as a prior board member and president of two Bay Area Asian American bar associations and as a board director of one of the nation’s oldest Asian legal advocacy organizations. Khurshid is also an attorney who advises clients in the legal regulated cannabis industry in California. As part of his legal practice and commitment to public service, Khurshid has worked on social equity issues, including advancing the reform of cannabis laws and the protection of the legal cannabis industry through serving on the Board of Directors of the National Cannabis Industry Association, the California Cannabis Industry Association, and the Minority Cannabis Business Association.
My name is Alfonso Nguyen. I work as an adjunct counselor at Cosumnes River College. I have owned my home in Sacramento County since 2001, where I live with my elderly mother. We are immigrants from Vietnam. We receive electricity from SMUD.
I’ve joined a lawsuit against SMUD because they have given my electricity usage data to the police. This violates my right to privacy. Twice, police have come my home and demanded to search it for no reason.
The first time, two deputies from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department arrived at about 9:00 pm. They didn’t have a warrant, so I said they couldn’t come in. One pushed open the door and pushed my wheelchair aside so that he could enter and search my home.
The second time, two deputies came to my home and said that SMUD told them my home used too much electricity. They accused me of growing marijuana. But I’ve never done that, and neither has anybody else in my home or my property. I told them to get a warrant. One deputy put his hand over his holstered gun, as if preparing to draw it. He yelled at me, called me a liar, and threatened to arrest me. Later, I complained to the Sheriff’s Department. I also contacted SMUD. SMUD admitted they had disclosed my energy usage data to the deputies.
The illegal sharing of customers’ private energy usage between SMUD and law enforcement has to stop. SMUD should be working for its customers, not the police.