The Time has Come to Harness the Power of Technology to go After Those Using it to Enslave Others. - California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris
Mark Latonero, Ph.D., and his team from the Center on Communication Leadership & Policy (CCLP) at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism recently conducted a year-long investigation to answer the question: “Can online technologies be leveraged to provide actionable, data-driven information in real time to those positioned to help victims?” In their report, “Human Trafficking Online: The Role of Social Networking Sites and Online Classifieds,” the group found that although the Internet is being used to facilitate human trafficking, it also can be harnessed to monitor and combat this form of modern-day slavery.
While human trafficking stems from a complex set of economic, social, and cultural causes that predate the development of online technologies and continue to exist as new technologies emerge, it is undeniable that trafficking activity is taking place online. Yet the role of the online environment in trafficking remains an open question. Instead of viewing social networking sites and online classifieds as the cause of trafficking, this report offers a different approach by observing the manner in which traffickers are using online technologies and exploring whether the same technologies can be used to monitor and combat trafficking.
The Report found that since online classifieds and social networking sites play a role in facilitating human trafficking, the “intersection between trafficking and online technologies” will demand a coordinated response. According to Latonero, “Data mining, mapping and advanced analytics can be developed to support law enforcement and other organizations in fighting human trafficking…The report also describes how mobile phone applications, crowdsourcing and other new technologies might be used to help victims.”
Based upon their research, Latonero’s team issued the following guidelines for those who seek to employ technology as a means to combat human trafficking (e.g., governments, NGOs, private sector, academia, service providers):
(1) The ultimate beneficiaries of any technological intervention should be the victims and survivors of human trafficking.
(2) Successful implementation of anti-trafficking technologies requires cooperation among actors across government, nongovernmental, and private sectors.
(3) Private-sector technology firms should recognize that their services and networks are being exploited by traffickers and take steps to innovate and develop anti-trafficking initiatives.
(4) Continuous involvement is necessary to ensure that tools are refined to effectively respond to shifts in technology and trafficking.
(5) Technological interventions should account for the range of human rights potentially impacted by the use of advanced technologies (e.g., privacy and freedom of expression).
Researchers cannot afford to ignore the dark side of the Internet…This report explains how the Internet can be a proactive tool for detecting, locating and addressing human trafficking. It provides valuable guidelines for policymakers and practitioners that are based on multi-disciplinary research extending to a clear legal and technical understanding of how to go after the traffickers. – William H. Dutton, professor of Internet studies and director of the Oxford Internet Institute