Cleveland Utilities reassures clients about data

Cleveland Utilities reassures clients about data

August 10th, 2012 by Paul Leach in News

Cleveland Utilities General Manager Tom Wheeler.

Cleveland Utilities General Manager Tom Wheeler.

Photo by Randall Higgins /Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Cleveland Utilities takes the protection of its customers' data "very seriously," according to utility officials.

In a recent board meeting, utility officials discussed plans to maintain the privacy of customer information as it is stored and transmitted throughout its electronic systems.

"This [customer] information we have resides all over the company," President Tom Wheeler said. "A lot of it, most of it, finds its way to the computer system, and that's where it sits."

Shane Lawson, Cleveland Utilities' manager of customer data, said no data has been compromised. However, "quite a few situations" have occurred in which customers have tried to use stolen credit cards or check numbers to pay their bills online, he said. In these instances, the customers were locked out of their accounts until investigations could be performed.

"We run our system in a very protected mode," said Lawson, and terminal workstations do not store accessed data.

Another protection feature requires the encryption of customer credit card and Social Security numbers, he said.

Walt Vineyard, vice president of information technologies, said Cleveland Utilities tries to deter ID theft in other ways. He noted utilities sometimes are considered sources for generating fraudulent IDs.

Because utility bills can serve as verifying documents for proof of ID, Lawson said the data protection policies require new customers to provide a valid driver's license or federal photo ID before Cleveland Utilities will provide service.

Officials said information from the utility's automated meter readers is protected, too.

Despite this, Wheeler said, Cleveland Utilities wants to add an amendment to its existing customer privacy policies that will leave no doubt in its customers' minds.

"We wanted to specifically spell out the fact that our meter-reading data certainly falls under this existing policy we've had for years," he said.

Regardless of the utility's assurances that the automated meters are safe and secure, Wheeler said, about 40 of its 26,000 customers have expressed concerns about the new technology.

He said Cleveland Utilities plans to allow customers to opt out of automated meter usage for a $10 monthly fee, an amount that could be adjusted, to offset the labor required to read meters manually.

"The last thing we want to create is a situation where we're in a confrontation-type mode," Wheeler said. "It's not good for us, it's not good for the customer."