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Time we used cellphones as tool against crime

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When it comes to technology, it seems the default human reaction is to give it a bad name and focus on the negative activities it enables. Cases in point are recent horrific incidents where cellphone video footage was used to capture acts of sexual violence by recording attacks and sharing them.

But what if we turn that point of view on its head?

We’ve seen the role cellphones and social media can play in overthrowing undemocratic governments.

Why not look to our cellphones as an important tool in the fight against crime, rather than perpetuating it.

If we look at statistics, it becomes clear what a powerful weapon against crime the camera-enabled cellphone can be.

Of the 5.9 billion cellphone subscriptions – sitting in the hands of four billion people worldwide – 4.2 billion of these devices include a camera.

The camera is the third most used service on a cellphone at 72 percent, following the SMS (85 percent) and voice calls (83 percent).

The number of cellphone cameras is four times more than the number of traditional digital and film-based cameras and video cameras.

Thanks to these cellphone cameras, we’re taking more than 380 billion photos a year around the world.

Photo sharing site Flickr says the iPhone 4 is the most common camera being used by its members.

Instagram, the photo-sharing social media site launched in October 2010, said its average number of photos loaded per second rose from three to 60 over the course of last year. There were 400 million photos shared on the site by year-end.

We see the impact of this ability to share photos and videos in our daily news broadcasts. Cellphone video footage is used by major news broadcasters to cover breaking news: the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 was the first global news story covered in this way.

The first images of the 2009 Hudson River plane crash in New York were shared by a bystander via Twitter.

Cellphones are an important tool in the fight against crime; criminals incriminate themselves by not only taking pictures and videos of crimes being committed, or their ill-gotten gains, but also sharing these via social media.

In April a US man was arrested for stealing petrol from a police car after he posted a picture of himself doing so on his Facebook page.

We should change our view of our camera-enabled phones and realise the power we have in our pockets and backpacks and start being more vigilant.

A date-stamped and geo-tagged visual or audiovisual piece of evidence is highly compelling in crimes of any size.

Crime Line – which this week celebrated its fifth birthday – accepts pictures and videos by e-mail, and is adding MMS capabilities and other technology to the platform which started out with SMS.

Cape Town’s “stompie-line” – where people can report motorists who drop cigarette butts and incidents of pollution – takes phone calls only. How much more effective would it be if it allowed citizens to send audiovisual material from the word go. Just like dictators, criminals can’t hide anymore.

Pieter Streicher, managing director & co-founder of Parents Corner.


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