New Internationalist

How hacktivism fights corruption


The Colombia anti-corruption ‘hackathon’ developed a tool to report electoral advertising.

Corruption ruins lives. Technology saves lives.

Take the health sector: in too many countries around the world, people are forced to pay bribes if they want to receive treatment – 30 per cent of people surveyed in Vietnam, for example. Finding sustainable ways for citizens to address corruption in their daily life is a great preoccupation for anti-corruption activists, but internet technologies offer a great chance to give people more power.

Websites such as ipaidabribe.com in India, and the use of Twitter in events such as the Arab Spring, have shown that technology can be a powerful vehicle for people power.

Just one week after Transparency International held its first ‘hackathon,’ staff in Ukraine are already piloting a website for people to report their experiences of corruption prevention in the health sector. This tool aims to encourage ethical behaviour among doctors by praising them for what in other countries is absolutely normal: providing good services without soliciting or accepting bribes.

Similarly, in Azerbaijan they already have a test version of a site where women can report gender-based corruption and sexual harassment called ‘Stop Harassment!’. Transparency International Azerbaijan aims not only to bring relief to the victims but also to pressurize the government into responding properly to the problem.

We have received 36 challenging problems - from election monitoring to youth engagement – from 21 Transparency International chapters all over the world. They show how technology can allow a more transparent use of public funds and help citizens monitor public life and report the abuse of power.

That is why Transparency International staff in Colombia, Hungary, Indonesia, Lithuania, Morocco and Russia (joined by colleagues from 16 other countries) got together with 200 computer programmers for the 24-hour event ‘Hacks Against Corruption’– an intense day of project collaboration. ‘Hackers’ is the term for a subculture of creative computer programmers who rebuild technology to do something interesting – in this case, fight corruption.

The hackathon, taking place across six countries, was live-streamed over the internet. Transparencia Colombia, for example, organized their hackathon in partnership with RHoK Bogota, Telefonica, Movistar, Wayra Colombia, Microsoft and Public. They developed a web and mobile citizen tool to report electoral advertising for 2014 elections called Participa. They also developed an online platform for tracking citizen corruption allegations on their way through Guatemalan public offices called Random Hacks of Kindness.

After a long weekend of intense work, lack of sleep, tweeting, streaming and presenting ideas, we still have a long way to go to get this up and running and usable for the public. The hackers and the corruption fighters came away from the hackathon bleary-eyed but incredibly enthusiastic. They are full of plans to launch their new applications and giving them names.

What we have are seeds to plant in several countries around the world. Let’s see which ones grow and gift the fruit of people power.

Milena Marin is Transparency International’s data and technology co-ordinator.

The December 2012 issue of New Internationalist focuses on internet rights
. For updates see the magazine section of our website.

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