Study Examines New Front in War on Crime: the Internet

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The Igarape Institute explores the emerging use of technology in violence prevention in Latin America, a recent development for citizen security that is growing alongside the region’s Internet boom, as criminals and authorities take their war into the virtual world.

In the report “Digitally Enhanced Violence Prevention in the Americas,” published by the Stability International Journal of Security & Development, authors Robert Muggah and Gustavo Diniz discuss the emergence of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as tools increasingly used by authorities and institutions, as well as citizens, to prevent violence. The article also highlights how ICTs have become increasingly used by organized criminal elements in the region, which are sometimes more tech savvy than the authorities pursuing them.

ICTs have surged as connectivity as increased. (See below how Internet penetration in the region compares to the rest of the world.) They are defined as anything using Internet connectivity, ranging from smart phone applications to computer-based activity like blogging. In the hands of authorities, they can take the form of crime mapping systems, or online alert systems, as an alternative to centralized forms of information management, such as hotlines.

Criminals using ICTs include those who have emerged with the digital age, such as identity thieves, and “old” crime groups, such as drug cartels, which have begun using the Internet to issue threats and track victims.

The study encourages authorities to increase the use of such technology to fight crime, highlighting both the possibilities provided by the exponential growth of Internet use in the region and the need to protect people from the new vulnerabilities to criminal activity that they face on the Internet.


Internet connectivity in the world, per 100; source: World Bank

InSight Crime Analysis

The rising use of technology to fight crime has been notable in Latin America, with Mexico a prime example. There citizens have overcome the refusal of various media to cover organized crime because of the dangers posed to journalists by establishing so-called “narco-blogs” or managing Twitter accounts that sometimes report the carnage in gruesome detail. For doing so, suspected criminal organizations have issued threats against them, and some have paid with their lives.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Cyber Crime

Traditional criminal groups have become increasingly active in their use of the Internet, and authorities should seek to meet this growing threat. While the report lauds some of the efforts seen in the region, such as the establishment of dedicated cyber crime departments in police forces, the rapid march of technology demands authorities adapt quickly to these shifting criminal tactics.

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