Using technology to fight illicit networks
Last week I attended and participated in a Google Ideas Summit panel on Illicit Networks in Los Angeles. It touched on the limits to freedom of expression due to the fear of being trapped in an illicit network and how technology could, or couldn’t, help with the situation.
It’s interesting that a business like Google organizes these types of events where people who have suffered within an illicit network (human trafficking, narcotics, violence and slavery), institutions such as Interpol, the US Department of State, government representative (the Mexican Secretary of Government attended), technology businesses and geeks share experiences, ideas, critiques and solutions.
The first talks centered on the positive and negative impacts has on our lives and security. It was recalled that in the Mumbai attacks (2011), the terrorists were able to track police movements via the Internet and social networks and base their activities on that information. Something similar occurred in the 1972 Munich attacks and their live broadcast outside the Olympic village.
Whether or not technology has caused more damage than wellbeing or if it is more effective than a gun, I believe a story is in order:
“If you ask a priest whether you can smoke while you pray, he will surely say no. If you ask him if you can pray while you smoke, he will probably say yes.” At the end of the day, it’s all about perceptions.
What disappoints me is that there are still tech companies and geeks that believe the only solution to this sort of problem is a technology-based one. Fortunately, I believe that Google doesn’t share this vision and this is the reason they organize these events.
In my opinion, it’s naive to think that technology is more than a tool to resolve or understand problems, but at the same time we can’t continue to overestimate the power of maps, visualizations and secure hotlines. Many times, this vision has been seen to be influenced by Silicon Valley., when thanks to mobiles or computers, people report, communicate or avoid better. For that, I believe we should rethink the model.
Society shapes technology but, equally, its use is determined by the conditions in which a society lives. In Mexico, Twitter is a tool for alerting citizens of risks and in LA to share events.
Another question is that while maps and reports bring into focus the symptoms of a problem, how can we use technology to attack a problem at the root—this being a lack of confidence in ourselves and our governments? We neither share experiences nor make our cities feel alive. To that end, we have not been able to create strong networks in our society.
In Mexico, criminal organizations have created strong links in communities. Many local media outlets don’t cover the violence and conditions that exist there out of fear. Our president signs into law censorship laws such as ACTA and vetoes victim laws while some states propose even more backward laws.
It’s as if citizens are trapped in a spiral of fear, all with access to social networks and technology.
A first glance, while listening to heartbreaking stories of some of the attendees of the Google Ideas Summit, they seemed different but really share two common problems behind the lens of technology:
1. How can we ensure that people understand, participate in, share and protect messages?
2. How can this shared trust be translated into accountability and problem resolution?
Really, it’s not a technological problem but rather an anthropological one.
However, I believe that technology can help solve the root problem when people share information about what makes our communities feel alive and what’s positive about where they live. If we propose a model where people say and share positive aspects instead of complaining about the negatives, it will create a true community of shared experiences.
Jorge Soto is the founder of Citivox, an Internet platform dedicated to linking citizens with their governments to solve common problems. A graduate of Columbia’s University’s Columbia Business School, Jorge is passionate about eliminating the divide between people and their governments. He is also a winner of 2012’s TR35 Mexico competition. Twitter: @smjorge22