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Tech Monthly: CYBER CITIES: Robert Muggah, Igarape Institute
[February 09, 2014]

Tech Monthly: CYBER CITIES: Robert Muggah, Igarape Institute

(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Using technology to address social problems is the goal of Robert Muggah, a Canadian who has found fertile ground in Rio de Janeiro's increasingly wired and pacified favelas.

He is the founder of the Igarape Institute, which is working with city authorities on a "smart policing" project using mobile-phone technology to make public security more transparent and accountable.

Following agreement with the Rio State police, Igarape is helping to design an android app that will record every movement and conversation of police officers when they step out of their cars. On a routine patrol the data will be downloaded at the end of the day and saved on the cloud. In crisis situations, the information will be streamed live to headquarters. Police chiefs are enthusiastic about having such extra surveillance and personnel management tool.

Favela communities will be more interested in the potential to reduce police abuses in a city that suffers an alarmingly high rate of killings by officers in the course of their duties.

Pilot programmes are now underway in Rocinha, the city's biggest favela. If authorities approve, these will be scaled up in the coming weeks and the system could be introduced citywide later this year. Talks are also underway with authorities in Nairobi and Cape Town to adopt the system.

The project exemplifies the core goal of Igarape, a non-profit organisation that works with partners from around the world, including Google Ideas, to use mobile technology to achieve socially useful ends.

Muggah is perhaps best known for his data-visualisations of the global trade in small arms and its link to murder rates and other crimes. He is also working with epidemiologists on a child security index that will analyse government data on young people's experiences of violence in low-income communities. Other projects in development include a "big data" analysis of Twitter and Facebook postings before a recent wave of street protests to establish who are the prime movers, and a visualisation of data on money laundering and, eventually, timber extraction from the Amazon.

"Rio is an exciting place to test new technologies. Many people in government, the private sector and civil society are committed to evidence-based policy and action, and technology can help make this the norm.

"With so much going on - not least the World Cup and Olympics in the next few years - the city is a real-life laboratory," Muggah says. "Young Cariocas [Rio residents] are increasingly digitally literate and enthusiastically pushing for social change. We have an unprecedented opportunity to help improve public security in the city. Technology will have a major role in making the city safer for us all." (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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