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A project to create SMS-based infrastructure for low-income areas in Chicago for violence prevention and services dissemination.

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Safecity

About

Safecity is a project to provide low-income neighborhoods in American cities the tools to protect themselves against crime, specifically gang violence. By leveraging the power of text messaging, Safecity provides a way for citizens to report and receive information about dangerous behavior in their neighborhoods through a share-and-share-alike model. Messages are rebroadcast within very limited geographic areas and only to those who have requested them. All content that passes through the network is aggressively anonymized.

Genesis

Safecity is inspired by Ushahidi. This project has been used to great affect to combat the logistical problems of managing safety and resources in crisis zones and in the developing world. The motivation behind adapting these principles to areas of the United States is simple: gang violence is a crisis. There is no other adequate way to describe the problems which the residents of low-income, inner-city neighborhoods face on a daily basis. Safecity is an attempt to provide these people with the tools to protect themselves.

Objectives

First and foremost Safecity’s objective is to provide tools for receiving messages via SMS, parsing location information from them, and then rebroadcasting those messages to recipients who have registered to receive them.

Secondly, using the same SMS infrastructure, Safecity will provide a platform for the distribution of social services in poverty-stricken areas. For example, a woman in a domestic violence situation will be able to type a number followed by her approximate location and receive back the locations of shelters nearest to her. The same system can be used to find food banks or to request a conflict mediator.

Privacy

Due to the sensitive nature of the information handled by this project extreme care is taken to protect the privacy of its users. The explicit standard of SafeCity is that the identity of its reporters is never made available to third-party, even if the contents of the database are subpoenaed. This is accomplished in a number of ways, most importantly:

  • Only phone numbers are ever collected—no names, ages, or other identifying information.
  • Only approximate addresses are ever recorded. It is literally impossible for the system to ever record a location based on exact address.
  • Phone numbers of reporters are anonymized as soon as they can be processed for SPAM, abuse, etc. and before the contents of their reports are made available online or in any other manner.
  • Users who unregister from the system are deleted—no record is kept that they were ever registered.

It is not possible to account for the actions of the carriers who handle the SMS messages before they reach Safecity, but these precautions ensure the anonymity of its users as far as humanly possible.

Licensing

All source code developed as part of the Safecity project is licensed under the MIT License as documented in the COPYING file. All text and other assets produced to accompany the source code is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. These licenses allow the maximum possible reuse by other organizations looking to implement some or all of the ideas that they embody.

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