A Traffic App That Lets Citizens Snitch On Each Other Is Coming… Should We Be Happy Or Horrified?

Officials in BGC are currently working on a new mobile application that will allow citizens to report traffic violators to the nearest enforcer for punitive action. Is being able to snitch on your fellow citizens for the sake of more traffic enforcement something we should support or resist against? Let’s look at both sides of the argument and discuss.

BGC-appThe BGC app will soon let you report other citizens

When the story about the new app that allows citizens to report alleged traffic offenders in BGC first hit the internet a short while ago, many of the initial reactions to it seemed to be positive, with people saying the ability to send pictures and videos to enforcement agencies straight from their phones will help to reduce errant behavior by motorists and enforcers alike. On the face of it, that definitely makes sense, as every part of the Metro, BGC included, has a problem with road discipline at times – and that includes normal road users and the people supposed to uphold the law alike. Looking at the idea a little closer, however, seems to show a few flaws and potential areas of concern. Maybe you can persuade me otherwise when we talk about this in the comments later, but looking at this right now, I think it would be best if the people behind the app were to abandon the project.

For starters, I think it may not work due to the sheer amount of data that will flood the system. This is the Selfie Capital of the World, remember? Smartphones are basically fused to people’s hands here and even if only a fraction of phone users make use of this, it will still be a mountain of pictures and videos to go through and process every day. Apparently, the app will allow you to take a snap or video of an illegally parked car, a counter flower, or any other road user that you believe may be in violation of the rules, and send it straight to the nearest enforcer with a simple push of a button. Authorities will apparently even inform you of the outcome afterwards.

This sounds like a great idea in theory, but how will it be done in practice? Every enforcer now runs around with an iPad and unlimited 4G connection to check videos before racing after violators, dealing with them, and then reporting back to the initial reporter? The practicalities of this are really not clear right now.

BGCNot only Big Brother might be watching you in BGC soon.

People were also quick to highlight that using the app might put motorists in direct violation of the Anti Distracted Driving Act (ADDA). While the official reply to this is that people are not supposed to use the app in ways that go against the ADDA, we all know how well that will work in practice. This could lead to some curious scenarios where a citizen reporting a motoring violator while driving is in turn reported by another citizen who saw him use his phone while driving, who in turn is then reported by another….you get the idea.

Also, the ADDA rules clearly stipulate that a driver can use a phone while driving if it is to report an emergency. As the IRR define “emergency” as a situation that poses an immediate risk to health, life, property or environment, it probably wouldn’t take a clever lawyer very long to use this to get out of any fine: “I was reporting a dangerous driver using your own app. Surely you cannot give me a ticket for that!”

One advantage of this approach over dashcams alone could be that everyone can report violations with the app, including pedestrians and cyclists. Taking a quick snap of some rule breaking SUV almost running you over while you cross the street could be a good way to increase pedestrian safety, or it could lead to “he said, she said” scenarios when the driver later disputes the offense. I believe it would also potentially leave anyone reporting violations open to legal action. Let’s say you report someone and that person just happens to be some bigwig who can afford to deploy his lawyers to fight any charges (not that this sort of thing ever happens here, right?). If an enforcer wrote him up, then the enforcer will also be the one dealing with this (because, you know, that’s his job, and he has the legal backing of his employer), but if you took the picture of him and wrote the initial report, then your name will have to appear somewhere, and have a guess who Mr. Bigwig will be coming after should things go to court, and who will potentially be dragged into a lengthy and expensive legal case: you. Maybe they can add some clauses to calm your mind about this to the terms of the application, but I think it could still be a scary can of worms that should best be left unopened.

That’s all before we even get into the argument that actively encouraging citizens to snitch on each other is morally wrong and also somewhat of an admission that the authorities have failed at the job they are paid to do. The name is in the clue, really: policing should be the job of the police. I have to admit that the idea of this app does horrify me a bit, as this is the type of behavior I would expect to find in 1970s East Germany or today’s North Korea, but not in a place that likes to see itself as modern and progressive. Instead of creating an army of wannabe-cops on our roads, why not expand the CCTV system within the various cities that make up the Metro instead? That way, the roads get safer, policing is done by the people who are getting paid to do it, and such system could of course also be used for other traffic schemes in the future, such as a congestion charge (which I think will be coming at some point).

I’m not usually big on quoting the bible, but a well-known sentence from John 8:7 springs to mind: ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ and that’s what it ultimately comes down to for me. When driving in any part of Manila, it is simply impossible to be ultra law abiding all the time. All of us mess up at some point. Not because we are bad drivers, but because of bad traffic, bad roads, bad weather, bad rules, and a whole host of other factors. Nobody is perfect and nobody drives perfectly either. Do we really need to increase stress levels on the roads even more by making people feel afraid of each other?

BGC is looking for feedback about the idea right now, so let’s talk about this in the comments and see what the consensus is.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of WhenInManila.com.
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