WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — Google, so far, has won the search engine wars. Now it wants to target international crime, including Mexico’s powerful drug cartels.
Eric Schmidt, Google Inc.’s executive chairman, has taken a keen interest in Mexico, where more than 47,500 people have been killed in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the cartels in 2006. Schmidt recently visited one of Mexico’s most violent cities, Ciudad Juarez, where civic leaders asked if he could help.
‘‘Defeated, helpless, these people have been so hardened in their experience with cartels that they have lost battles and they have lost hope,’’ Schmidt told a conference on international crime this week. ‘‘They were looking for a universal hammer to protect them. For me the answer was obvious. It was technology.’’
Mexico’s cartels often use more sophisticated technology than law enforcement. Cartel assets include mapping software that tracks the location of police from high-tech control rooms; remote-control submarines; and military grade rocket launchers. Drug-dealing organizations can intercept satellite feeds, including images broadcast by intelligence agency drones. They run money laundering networks that handle an estimated $25 billion a year in drug profits.
‘‘It’s a technological arms race, and at this moment they’re winning,’’ said Marc Goodman, founder of Future Crimes, who studies the nexus of technology and transnational crime. ‘‘But there’s never been an operating system that hasn’t been hacked.’’
Google’s immense assets can be brought to bear on the cartels, Schmidt suggested.
Google’s ideas include creating a network so citizens can safely report cartel activity without fear of retribution. It wants to make sharing real-time intelligence easier between police in different regions. It can identify how individuals are connected to each other, to bank accounts, and even to corrupt government officials. It can create Web platforms for citizens to share information and name and shame criminals.
Just 20 percent of crimes in Mexico are reported because victims fear retaliation and don’t trust the authorities, said Mexico’s interior minister, Alejandro Poire. He challenged technology experts to develop an application that would allow Mexican citizens, 80 percent of whom have cellphones, to report crimes anonymously. Ideally, the system would allow watchdog groups to monitor police responses, he said.
Eduardo Guerrero, a Mexico City-based security consultant, wasn’t optimistic technology alone can disrupt traffickers.
‘‘You should never underestimate the power of these guys,’’ he said. ‘‘They’re probably even aware of what’s going on here.”