A major part of my job with the Federal government involves the use of real-time technologies to improve water management. I often talk about the advantages, but probably short-change my discussion of the potential problems.
Time magazine in its 10 Jan 2011 edition has a article (written by Tom Mitchell) on smart meters (an application of real-time technologies):
. . . (Smart meters), millions of which have been deployed nationwide, wirelessly transmit information about household energy use to utilities. The system is designed to cut costs in two ways: it eliminates the need to send out meter readers, and it provides real-time consumption data, which enables utilities to charge lower rates during off-peak hours. The idea is to encourage consumers to change their energy intensive ways; a decision as simple as when to run the diswasher can have a significant effect on the bill.
But the smart-meter rollout, which is being funded as part of a $3.4 billion upgrade of the nation’s power grid, has been met with thousands of complaints from customers across the country for a variety of reasons. Class actions have been filed alleging overcharging. Tea Party members in Cleveland have decried the meters as a breach of privacy. The communities in Maine passed resolutions asking the local utility to halt installations until residents can get more information about the potential health hazards of the radio waves emitted by the devices.
The twin issues of accuracy and radio-wave hazards will be resolved (not to everyone’s satisfaction, but they will be resolved), but the issue of “a breach in privacy” is one that Americans need to take a hard look at. Monitoring water and energy use is one thing, but the technology of the potential to be very invasive. Privacy issues are something that all real-time monitoring systems need to consider.