The demographic composition and the steady economic growth in Latin America have led to broad access to internet and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT’s) in the region. Indeed, Latin America leads the way in the developing world on the percentage of the population connected to the Net. Nearly half of the population is connected and progress has been made to deliver 3G and 4G connections to marginalized areas. Governments, activists, citizens and international organizations have used this advantage to promote accountability and effectiveness in the policing effort. As citizens produce and consume more information in the internet, virtual communities and initiatives have been created to share experiences and data on crime and violence. However, these technologies have also been used by criminal organizations to broaden their influence and business. The present article looks to the characteristics of “digitally enhanced violence prevention” (DEVP) in the region using the cases of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.
With only some few regulations, Internet and the Latin American cyberspace are often seen as a fertile ground for virtual communities and types of information exchanges. Political and social discussions that may be dangerous or suppressed in the physical world have been moving to the social networks, where activists and citizens can mobilize in favor of their causes. In countries where institutions don’t enjoy of a good reputation, this social communities also function as a forum in which citizens can express their discomfort.
Government institutions themselves have also taken ICT’s as means and end on processes of modernization that mirror those developed in the United States in the 90’s. “Infocrim”,”Igesp” and “Terracrime”in Brazil, including “CUIVD” in Colombia, all draw parallels in their creation and objectives with the famous NYPD’s “Compstat”. By improving the technological capabilities of law enforcement agencies and courts, governments expect an improvement of the public safety conditions in their constituencies. Indeed, “Infocrim” and “Igesp” both led to important decreases on homicide rates in São Paulo and Belo Horizonte respectively.
The dynamics of DEVP in Latin America can be classified in four broad categories taking into account the objectives and hierarchies of the virtual interactions: 1) Vertical: government-to-government, 2) Vertical: government-to-citizen, 3) Horizontal: citizen-to-government, and 4) Horizontal: citizen-to-citizen. All of them base their functionality in the constant and actualized sharing of information on crime and violence. While governments distribute information with the objective of recollecting enough data to craft better strategies, citizens share experiences that help them recognize the patterns of violence in the places where they live.
Both vertical categories can be seen in programs that look to improve the knowledge that government institutions have on crime and violence. Large amounts of data are managed to carry out operations of surveillance and hot spot mapping, channeling information through a series of programs crafted in partnership with the citizens or NGO’s. On the other hand, horizontal categories include groups in social networks or webpages that are fed by reports of crime and violence of citizens, where trust and anonymity seem to have a reassuring effect on the contributors. Still, the same channels are also used to engage in criminal activities, harassment and calls for vigilantism from radicalized sectors of society or illegal armed groups as can be seen in Colombia, Mexico and/or Central America.
International organizations and States should work in partnership to promote South-South information sharing and North-South technology transfer as a way to improve their capabilities, promote transparency and foment trust in the institutions. Civil society actors on their part, are encouraged to keep the cyberspace as a safe place where citizens can maintain their anonymity while at the same time reporting violent actions and letting others know about what the conventional media fails to cover.
|Robert Muggah and Gustavo Diniz