Digital technology is changing the face of corruption, making it easier for the perpetrators but also arming those who are engaged in the war against it.
So how can we define ‘corruption’, that collection of seedy practices that are often delivered at a high level in afflicted societies?
Corruption is an abuse against the values of fairness and pursuit of common good in society and often defined as the “abuse of entrusted power for private gain or self-enrichment”. It rarely comprises a single crime but may involve a multiplicity of illicit acts including bribery, kleptocracy, fraud and theft. Often it can be accompanied by extortion, nepotism and money laundering and there is strong evidence of corruption being closely aligned with organised crime and terrorism.
Unfortunately, developments in digital technology can make life easier for those engaged in corruption. Corrupt officials can use the Dark Web to communicate and make financial transactions illicitly – and to connect with like-minded people.
Smartphones are also changing the dynamics around corruption as ownership has increased rapidly in most economies across the world. Whilst smartphones are another useful tool for corrupt individuals, on a more positive note, the technology is also driving a wave of reaction against corruption.
Smartphones enable individual citizens to report, video or photograph wrongdoing. With the easy set up and adoption of multilingual and multicultural apps, smartphones enable people to learn more about anti-corruption and to band together in the war against it. In certain conditions the smartphones belonging to corrupt individuals can be tracked and intercepted and Big Data techniques can assemble data that law enforcement can use in its investigations.
In Nigeria, the Anti-Corruption Internet Database (ACID) uses publicly acquired data to track corruption in public procurement. It provides interactive tools to enable members of the public to text or tweet reports of corrupt activities live onto Google Maps to raise awareness and to shame the perpetrators. Similar systems have been established in India (“I Paid a Bribe”), Kenya (Ushahdi), Egypt (“Shayfeen”) and, with support from UK DfID in Sierra Leone, “Pay No Bribe”.
As fast as corruption adopts new technology, the forces for good in society are using technology to fight back. It is encouraging to see how the citizens of different countries are now able to make a difference in fighting corruption, united by their ability to communicate.