Last year, police in Osaka set up a hot line through which crime-scene witnesses with camera phones—the popular mobile phones with a tiny digital eye—could send photographic evidence to authorities. So far the results haven't affirmed the citizenry's willingness to ensure civic order. Of 328 messages received, 45 contained photos—and half of those were pranks. Despite sincere tips on underage smoking and illegal parking, exactly zero crimes have been solved thanks to civilian sleuths. Not to say camera phones haven't kept the authorities busy: police have received a slew of complaints of digital skirt peeping and sundry reports of other, less felonious forms of tele-mischief such as distributing embarrassing photos of classmates over the Web. It seems that Japan's perverts and bullies have a faster high-tech learning curve than do its do-gooders.
Saudi Arabia has banned the phones altogether, but thus far, Asian nations are leaving damage control to the private sector. In Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore the gadgets have been forbidden in some health-club locker rooms.
Yet Section Chief Shiro Ikka of the Osaka Prefectural Police hasn't lost faith: "We're hoping [camera phones] will help catch criminals in the near future. After all, you don't come across a crime scene every day."