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Google’s War On Drugs

Mon, 09/17/2012 - 8:23am
David Mantey, Editor, PD&D

Finally, someone has spoken out about the increasing problem with and proliferation of Mexican drug cartels. The war on drugs is an age-old bullet point issue with politicians, but until Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt brought up the issue during the Illicit Networks Forces in Opposition conference (organized by Google’s think tank, Google Ideas) it often seemed like a lost cause.

Regardless of where you stand on the war on drugs, you cannot deny that the situation is only getting worse south of the U.S. border — where more than 47,500 people have been killed in drug-related violence since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the cartels in 2006.

After visiting some of Mexico’s most violent cities, Schmidt said that the people have become defeated, helpless, and hopeless, and he thinks that he can help wield the mighty hammer that could protect these people … technology. According to the experts at the conference, Mexican cartels use more sophisticated technology than law enforcement. While this information is not all that shocking, given crime’s omnipresent step ahead of law enforcement on the technological curve, I was surprised to read that cartels are using mapping software to track the location of police from “high-tech control rooms.”

I know what you’re thinking, all of this coming from the guy who shot down residential drone use in his previous column. As it stands, cartels are currently capable of intercepting satellite feeds, including images broadcasted by intelligence agency drones. For those readers who not only accepted the idea of an increasing police state, but ushered it in with open arms, this is proof that cartels have reinvested their estimated $25 billion in annual profits to be light years ahead of law enforcement.

According to Marc Goodman, founder of Future Crimes, which studies the nexus of technology and transnational crime, we are in a technological arms race and the right side of the law is losing (depending on whatever side of the line you may stand). I agree with Goodman in theory, but when I read “technological arms race” I think of over-engineered, over-budget government projects that are out of date before the first component is shipped. “Government” paired with “arms race” will only yield a giant mechatronic red, white, and blue Mothra losing to a much more savvy cartel Godzilla (it’s loose, but it plays).

We get too caught up in tangible technologies when it comes to a sense of security. I think Schmidt has a smarter approach to the issue when he suggests using Google’s “immense intelligence assets” to create a network that would allow citizens to safely report cartel activity without fear of retribution. In a time when Mexican journalists live in a constant state of fear, such anonymity should be a welcomed reprieve. In this way, Google wants to make sharing real-time intelligence easier among police in different regions. The company can identify how members of the cartel are connected to each other, to bank accounts, and even corrupt officials.

For some reason, I feel as though I have heard of a similar model, a model that has been equally demonized and deified, and was founded by a man who currently lives in exile under threat of persecution. The outfit is WikiLeaks, the man is Julian Assange. We have experienced the power that unadulterated free speech can wield, and I believe it would deliver a monumental blow to the influence cartels exercise via fear and intimidation.

According to Mexico’s interior minister, Alejandro Poire, a meager 20 percent of crimes are reported in Mexico, because victims fear retaliation and don’t trust the authorities. Google WikiLeaks: Mexico, or however it may be branded, would be an incredible advancement in the war on drugs. Information, above all, is power.

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