MEXICO CITY – Mexican authorities know they can’t go after organized crime alone.
That’s why the government is asking citizens to use technology to assist them in making the streets safer, Interior Secretary Alejandro Poiré said after attending “Illegal networks: Forces in opposition,” an event organized by Google in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in July.
“We know that technology can be used for good with greater power than it can be for bad,” Eric Schmidt, Google Inc.’s executive president, said last July. “As more and more people are connected, they will see, read, and listen better. The number of people who will access these networks will create a counterweight against the world’s worst criminals.”
The event featured discussions led by counselors from the United Nations; human rights activists; INTERPOL officials; survivors of organized crime; former narco-traffickers who had conducted business throughout Latin America; technology experts and numerous authorities and civil society representatives from several countries, including Panama, Brazil and the United States.
Poiré asked Google executives to develop a cellphone application that enables citizens to report crimes anonymously.
“In Mexico, 95 million people have cellphones, constituting a very large network,” he said. “We can create a system that helps us generate reports and monitor the follow-ups to the reports.”
Currently, Mexico allows residents to report crimes anonymously through Emergencies 066, which connects callers to local and state police. But the system was cast in a negative light after a cab driver in the city of Colima, west of Mexico City, was killed on Feb. 25 by a criminal gang whose members wrote “This happened to me because I called 066” on a message left near his body.
And that’s why Mexico needs a better system for residents to report crime, Poiré said, stressing the new system must provide callers with anonymity so they won’t be targeted by criminals or corrupt police officers.
“A big part of the criminal gangs’ having impunity is that citizens don’t know whether the police officer they are talking to can be trusted,” he added.
Bernardino Chávez, a security analyst, agrees with Poiré.
“In Mexico, citizens are afraid of bringing up an accusation because we don’t know whether the police officer who answers [the emergency hotline] 066 is in cahoots with the criminals,” he said. “That’s why people would rather report nothing – even when the activities of those people [the criminals] are upsetting their daily lives.”
Schmidt said the key to providing anonymity is to employ a web-based communications network in which the information is sent in encrypted packages that can’t be read by unauthorized parties.
The information would be relayed to intermediaries through a call center that would send decrypted messages to the proper law enforcement agencies, greatly increasing callers’ anonymity.
Javier Oliva Posada, a political and social science researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) said the system, which hasn’t yet been approved by the government, won’t work if society doesn’t trust the authorities.
“Above all else, there needs to be honesty on the part of the authorities,” he said. “There must be a determination to solve the problem because no procedure is going to work if there isn’t the will to comply behind it.”
Poiré is optimistic the system will be approved by the government, though no timetable for a vote has been set.
“This technology, without a doubt, will not turn us into a [crime-free] nation overnight,” he said. But it will produce a relationship of responsibility among the citizens and the police commands.”