Check out this awesome link from the World Bank’s Governance Matters blog. The gist is that there is a program in Caracas, Venezuela, in which citizens can anonymously report crimes they witness using text messages. The texts go to a group called CivRep, which then records the time and place from which the text was sent, and plots it on a map using Google maps. The authorities can then use this to respond in real time, or to look for patterns that help them better deal with crime.
The blog post mentions this has possibilities beyond street crime. One that comes immediately to my mind is corruption by local authorities. This will give bureaucratic higher-ups greater ability to monitor their subordinates – if crime patterns persist this may signal collusion between criminal and local police. This inability of administrative elites to monitor their agents was one of the key issues Fukuyama focused on in “Statebuilding,” and we may have a new tool here to deal with it.
I wonder if this could work for monitoring and reporting human rights abuses, even in states that do not consent to participation? If there was a way to keep sms sources anonymous to local authorities…
If you are interested in this sort of thing, you should also check out Witness.