Monday, September 24, 2012

Tin Foil Hat: The State Monitoring Regime

As we meander our sorry way out of the mess of debt and poor tax policy, there are dozens of programmes underway to restructure the economy, and reset the expectations of a citizenry that chose not to be too critical while the gravy was flowing.  The tax base is being broadened, services are being cut, excess is being eliminated, and the perpetual dance between the politicians and the mandarins continues at a pace that would have brought a wry smile to the face of Antony Jay, or of Jonathan Lynn.
Amongst the measures being introduced are the household charge / property tax, along with water metering. The ESB meanwhile is busy rolling out smart meters, which can do much more than simply measure energy consumption, they can broadcast energy readings back to base, obviating the need for meter readers (or notes from readers saying that they called but no one was in, when I was in).  They can also, ultimately, get down to an appliance level and monitor and optimise consumption, theoretically allowing you to put on the kettle from a mile away, or turning on security lights from the other side of the world.

What this regime of instrumentation also means is that homes will be offering up massive amounts of information to the state, far more than they have ever had access to before.  The correlation of electricity consumption with water consumption (perhaps along with weather patterns) can offer models on household behaviour, can determine when people are at home, when they wash themselves, when they wash their clothes, whether they have children or not, whether they're on vacation or not, whether they have visitors, and how they live their lives.  The extent to which they utilise their housing resources (detailed in the household charge registration) could be measured and scaled; number of people relative to square footage relative to consumption, and so on.
Correlation with social welfare records could validate personal location information with availability for work.  Correlation with TV license fee - well, that's an easy one.  Civil servants could find themselves being asked to prove they were home sick and not simply off shopping on the Tuesday after a bank holiday through the voluntary submission of data from these sources (and possibly accessing telephone location registers also).
The state, in deploying these new taxes and this new economic infrastructure, is laying the foundations for an information state, that has the potential to benefit us all.  However, there will be little that the state is not able to know - and in its arrogance, it may sense an entitlement to know it.  

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