Now, consider a network like the Internet, where sources send out their messages in little pieces — or, packets — each labeled with the address of their destination. Intermediate nodes forward the packets onward, and they are reassembled at the destination. Each link in the network may not have the full message. The transmitter and receiver don’t need to communicate directly or at the same time. They don’t need to know each other’s location. There’s no single point of failure, no rigid hierarchy.
In Juarez, we saw fearful human beings — sources — who need to get their information into the right hands. With our packet-switching mind-set, we realized that there may be a technological workaround to the fear: Sources don’t need to physically turn to corrupt authorities, distant journalists or diffuse nonprofits, and rely on their hope that the possible benefit is worth the risk of exposing themselves.
Technology can help intermediate this exchange, like servers passing packets on the Internet. Sources don’t need to pierce their anonymity. They don’t need to trust a single person or institution. Why can’t they simply throw encrypted packets into the network and let the tools move information to the right destinations?
In a sense, we are talking about dual crowdsourcing: Citizens crowdsource incident awareness up, and responders crowdsource justice down, nearly in real time. The trick is that anonymity is provided to everyone, although such a system would know a unique ID for every user to maintain records and provide rewards. This bare-bones model could take many forms: official and nonprofit first responders, investigative journalists, whistleblowers, neighborhood watches.
Technology is just a tool. The residents of Juarez told us they desperately want technologies that, when used in the right way by the right people, would make a difference. There will be real consequences of trial and error, but we cannot let fear prevent us from innovating. In a world where cartels and criminals are masters of innovation, technology companies can tip the scales over the long run, helping to provide an innovation advantage to those who need it most.