Google takes aim at Mexico's drug cartels

Jul 18, 2012 by MARTHA MENDOZA

(AP) — Google, so far, has won the search engine wars. Now it wants to target international crime, including Mexico's powerful drug cartels.

Eric Schmidt, Google Inc.'s executive chairman, has taken a keen interest in Mexico, where more than 47,500 people have been killed in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the cartels in 2006. Schmidt recently visited most of Mexico's most violent cities, Ciudad Juarez, where civic leaders asked if he could help.

"Defeated, helpless, these people have been so hardened in their experience with cartels that they have lost battles and they have lost hope," Schmidt told a conference on international crime this week. "They were looking for a universal hammer to protect them. For me the answer was obvious. It was technology."

Experts told the conference that Mexico's cartels often use more sophisticated technology than law enforcement. Cartel assets include mapping software that tracks the location of police from high-tech control rooms; remote control submarines; and military grade rocket launchers.

Drug-dealing organizations can intercept satellite feeds, including images broadcast by intelligence agency drones. They run money laundering networks that handle an estimated $25 billion a year in drug profits.

"It's a technological arms race, and at this moment they're winning," said Marc Goodman, founder of Future Crimes, who studies the nexus of technology and transnational crime. "But there's never been an operating system that hasn't been hacked."

Google's immense intelligence assets can be brought to bear on the cartels, Schmidt suggested.

Google's ideas include creating a network so citizens can safely report cartel activity without fear of retribution. It wants to make sharing real-time intelligence easier among police in different regions. It can identify how individuals are connected to each other, to bank accounts and even to corrupt government officials. It can create community Web platforms for citizens to share information and name and shame criminals.

Talk also addressed human and arms trafficking, exploitation of child soldiers, and airport and seaport security.

Just 20 percent of crimes in Mexico are reported because victims fear retaliation and don't trust the authorities, said Mexico's interior minister, Alejandro Poire. He challenged technology experts in the crowd to develop an application that would allow Mexican citizens, 80 percent of whom have cellphones, to report crimes anonymously to a call center that would direct officers to respond. Ideally, the system would allow watchdog groups to monitor police responses, he said.

Mexico's undersecretary of information technology, Francisco Niembro, said the government has been developing a Web platform where law enforcement can get a national look at crimes and investigations. Today, he said, 8,500 of Mexico's 36,000 federal police are dedicated to gathering intelligence — but analyzing that intelligence takes sophisticated staffing.

Nancy Roberts, a defense analysis professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, California, noted that in Mexico, police officials can tap phones, use tracking devices and tap into computer networks. But that does little unless someone can sort through the evidence.

"Our jobs are making sense of all the data so law enforcement knows how, when and where to strike," she said.

Eduardo Guerrero, a Mexico City-based security consultant, wasn't optimistic that technology alone can disrupt narcotraffickers.

"You should never underestimate the power of these guys," Guerrero said. "They're probably even aware of what's going on here, and will figure out a way to use it to their advantage."

Even Google's Schmidt conceded that better use of information isn't enough.

"I think at the end of the day, there really are bad people, and you have to go in and arrest them and kill them," he said.

The conference in Westlake Village, California, was organized by Google's think tank, Google Ideas, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Participants included Ian Biddle, an arms broker; former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff; Ron Noble, secretary general of Interpol, the international police agency; Anthoney DeChellis, CEO of Credit Suisse private banking; and Juan Pablo Escobar, son of the slain Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Juan Pablo Escobar talked about the challenges of quitting a drug cartel.

Explore further: Study: Social media users shy away from opinions

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mexican hacker group member freed by cartel: report

Nov 04, 2011

A Mexican member of online "hacktivist" group Anonymous was released by the Zetas drug cartel ahead of a threat by the Web group to expose details of the crime ring's activities, Mexican television reported Friday.

Mexican hacker group drops reprisal as member freed

Nov 07, 2011

Persons claiming to be with the Mexican arm of "hacktivist" group Anonymous said Friday they were scrapping plans to expose information about the Zetas drug cartel after a kidnap victim was released.

An altered state

Apr 19, 2010

Mexico's president Felipe Calderon has made a military campaign against the country's ascendant drug-trafficking gangs the centerpiece of his presidency. After thousands of fatalities, many of them due to ...

Recommended for you

WEF unveils 'crowdsourcing' push on how to run the Web

9 hours ago

The World Economic Forum unveiled a project on Thursday aimed at connecting governments, businesses, academia, technicians and civil society worldwide to brainstorm the best ways to govern the Internet.

Study: Social media users shy away from opinions

Aug 26, 2014

People on Facebook and Twitter say they are less likely to share their opinions on hot-button issues, even when they are offline, according to a surprising new survey by the Pew Research Center.

US warns shops to watch for customer data hacking

Aug 23, 2014

The US Department of Homeland Security on Friday warned businesses to watch for hackers targeting customer data with malicious computer code like that used against retail giant Target.

Fitbit to Schumer: We don't sell personal data

Aug 22, 2014

The maker of a popular line of wearable fitness-tracking devices says it has never sold personal data to advertisers, contrary to concerns raised by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Should you be worried about paid editors on Wikipedia?

Aug 22, 2014

Whether you trust it or ignore it, Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world and accessed by millions of people every day. So would you trust it any more (or even less) if you knew people ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jul 19, 2012
The marijuana prohibition has ended up with more violently killed people than the alcohol prohibition twice over. If the dead were from Chicago and New York instead of Chihauha and Cuidad Juarez, we would have changed our laws decades ago. It isn't always practical and ethical to outlaw every substance that makes some prude somewhere uncomfortable. A good 80 to 90% of Mexican drug gangs' profits are wrapped up in one plant, and we could do to them what exactly what we did to the American mafia.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 19, 2012
There were few articles in here saying use waste water to track the drug trafficking, it may not help the police to catch the drug dealers right away but should help narrow down the investigation area.

However, you may need some on line sensors and a new library of the derivatives of of the drugs from the waste water. After operating a period of time, with google maps, the data should indicate the heavies drug using area or building or house.

I hope this method should work!!
not rated yet Jul 22, 2012
Well considering they took out: "The Army confiscated some pretty advanced equipment, with 167 antennas and 166 power supplies removed, along with 1,400 radios and 2,600 phones" (Link: http://www.freedo.../533044/ ), and they are still in operation, I doubt information alone is going to do anything.

They will find a way around it, by either creating their own system like above, or hiding in plain sight, or paying people off.

Good Luck Google, you are going to need it.

The new Mexican President wants to stop going after the cartels in Mexico, let's see if that has more to do with the number of deaths then if Google can intercept their Google search results.