NAPERVILLE, IL — City of Naperville documents indicate that the Department of Public Utilities for Water and Wastewater is reviewing options for implementation of a city-wide deployment of smart water meters. In a memorandum dated October 4, 2013, the Director of the city water department indicated that smart water meters would “automate water meter reads and provide customers near real time information on use (including leak detection and notification) as well as other account information.”
Unfortunately, smart water meters that provide “near real time information” would also entail the same risks that are associated with the City’s recently installed smart electric meters, including additional radiofrequency (RF) exposure, invasions of privacy, data security issues, and concerns over meter accuracy.
Based upon an interview with security expert John McNabb, who has focused on protecting drinking water, VentureBeat reports “the smarter [that] water meters become, the easier they’re getting to hack. … The problem with the wireless water meters is that they are vulnerable because of the wireless medium they use. Communications are not [normally] encrypted (largely due to higher costs) and so they are easily intercepted, faked or even jammed. … And since the usage of water indicates the presence or absence of the homeowner, the hacked water meters can be used for surveillance purposes.”
According to Mr. McNabb, “It’s like an electronic cash register for the utility. But it could also be a tool for Big Brother,” a reference to the totalitarian figurehead of George Orwell’s novel, 1984. McNabb said that the concern about Big Brother is also a big one. He said that the water department’s staff could learn what time of day you take a shower, when you are at home, and when you’re on vacation.
What appears to be developing is another instance of a new city-wide program being implemented where:
- There is lack of public input;
- City and utility priorities trump environmental and health considerations as well as customer privacy interests.
We’ve seen all this before in the context of so-called smart electric meters. The sales pitch from smart water meter vendors includes the following:
Water Conservation and Restrictions: When water conservation moves from being a priority to a necessity, smart water meters allow water utilities to react quickly to government mandates for water restrictions and to efficiently identify violators. It facilitates this process by providing utilities the ability to view customer usage on an hourly basis, allowing them to detect excessive flow on “off” days.
Leak Detection: Utilities can minimize the problem of leaks on the customer side. Leak detection-enabled smart meters allow utilities to identify continuous water usage over specified periods of time. When continuous usage is detected, the system sends leak alerts so the utility can notify the customer about the potential leak.
The above advertised “features” for smart water meters means that you would be subjected to constant surveillance. Combined with the data collected from the smart electric meters, an even clearer picture emerges on your behaviors in the home. Before, if you had a gas-fired hot water heater, you could at least take a shower without anybody knowing. Now, incremental water usage monitoring would make that no longer possible.
At this point, the City is evaluating the technologies available. We don’t yet know the granularity of the data the City desires to collect or the full extent of wireless technologies that will be employed. In any case, it is time for more people to stand up for their rights and make their opinions known that:
- We don’t want more wireless RF transmitters mandated for our homes, and;
- We don’t want more behavioral surveillance conducted by our City government and others beyond our control.
When will the onslaught against our rights end? When will it stop? Will there be opt-out provisions? How much will it cost?
It is important to note that Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW), one of the nation’s largest municipal utilities, serving nearly 421,000 customers, recently agreed that there would be no fees for its customers requesting to an opt-out from having a smart meter. MLGW is in the process of installing smart meters for all services including gas, electric, and water. The policy of not being forced to have a smart meter applies to all three types of meters. For more information, refer to the following blog posting: http://skyvisionsolutions.org/2013/10/03/no-opt-out-fee-in-memphis/.
If a large municipal utility like MLGW can offer no fee “opt-outs,” why can’t Naperville? Is it not compassionate enough or does its City Council members not care enough about the rights and well-being of its citizens?
For additional relevant information, please refer to the link below for a USA Today article published on February 15, 2013, entitled, “Foes fight the tide of ‘smart’ water meters.” As indicated in the article, “Moves to modernize water utilities across the U.S. are coming under fire from opponents who say the costs will outpace the benefits of new technology.” Also it is reported that “Often when new meters are installed, bills go up even without a rate increase,…”
Finally, here is a short video reporting on a situation where wireless water meters are being deployed in San Fransisco. Courtesy: KGO-TV in San Francisco, CA.
[Above video clip contains material used pursuant to Fair Use Doctrine under 17 U.S.C.]
The original news report that accompanied the above video may be viewed at the following link: http://abc7news.com/archive/8292440/
Update: Primarily of interest to the residents of the City of Naperville, Illinois, the Naperville City Council decided in January 2014 to delay the smart water meter project by at least one year to allow time to get all the “kinks” out of the recently implemented smart grid initiative for smart electric meters. The video below provides excellent background material on what is eventually planned for Naperville.