In September, 2011 the USC Center on Communication Leadership & Policy released a comprehensive report examining the role of social networking sites and online classified ads in facilitating human trafficking. Find the press release below. The executive summary and full report can be found at: technologyandtrafficking.usc.edu
Internet Is Potent Weapon in Global Fight Against Human Trafficking
New USC report details steps to be taken by industry, government and NGOs
“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
LOS ANGELES, September 20, 2011 –The rapid expansion of the Internet is being used to facilitate human trafficking, yet it also can be harnessed to monitor and combat this form of modern-day slavery. This is the finding of a new report from the Center on Communication Leadership & Policy (CCLP) at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
The result of a year-long investigation by CCLP research director Mark Latonero, Ph.D., and his team, Human Trafficking Online: The Role of Social Networking Sites and Online Classifieds focuses on how technology and online tools can be used to prevent trafficking, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.
“Data mining, mapping and advanced analytics can be developed to support law enforcement and other organizations in fighting human trafficking,” says Latonero. “The report also describes how mobile phone applications, crowdsourcing and other new technologies might be used to help victims.” Many of these innovations were examined with expertise provided by Professor Eduard Hovy and colleagues at the Information Sciences Institute at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.
While it is difficult to quantify the extent of human trafficking on the Internet, this research establishes that online criminal exploitation of trafficked victims is an undeniable fact.
“We must be united in the fight against human trafficking. The USC Annenberg Report demonstrates that the modern practice of human trafficking has, to a large extent, migrated online,” said California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. “The time has come to harness the power of technology to go after those using it to enslave others.”
Just as the Internet has given traffickers easier means of exploiting their victims to a wider audience of “johns,” online technologies also offer new ways to combat human trafficking, according to the report. For example, online communications from or to traffickers leave behind traces in cyberspace. This information provides important glimpses into criminal behavior, techniques and patterns. And if anti-trafficking investigators can assemble enough of it, they can take specific actions to help victims and prosecute traffickers.
A common starting point for investigators is combing through photos and online advertisements searching for potential victims of sex trafficking, particularly girls who seem younger than their advertised ages, the report reveals.
In addition to documenting cases, Human Trafficking Online proposes ways Internet technologies can help combat human trafficking, according to Latonero.
William H. Dutton, professor of Internet studies and director of the Oxford Internet Institute agrees. “Researchers cannot afford to ignore the dark side of the Internet,” he says. “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.”
Human Trafficking Online calls for immediate action to develop monitoring and prevention techniques and makes recommendations for industry, law enforcement, researchers and NGOs to combat trafficking.
“The technology industry and the anti-trafficking community are beginning to explore new ways that technology can help in the fight against human trafficking,” adds Samantha Doerrof Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit. “This report is a valuable step forward in that effort, and Microsoft is proud to be working with the University of Southern California and others to drive further research, awareness and the development of innovative disruptive actions and technologies to fight human trafficking.”
Human Trafficking Online offers a set of guidelines to inform future technological interventions in support of anti-trafficking efforts. However, the report cautions that adapting these technologies and methods requires careful consideration of potential implications for civil liberties-such as privacy and freedom of expression-and the report addresses these crucial issues.
“The Center is committed to exploring ways to use communication technology to serve the public good,” said Geoffrey Cowan, USC University Professor and CCLP director. “Dr. Latonero and his research team have probed the nexus of technology with this global problem and they have come up with creative and potentially important initiatives. We are looking forward to continuing work with our partners to make a major dent in global trafficking.”
Human Trafficking Online is available at www.humantraffickingonline.org or by email@example.com.
About the Technology & Trafficking Initiative
CCLP’s Technology & Trafficking Initiative began in 2010 with a meeting convened in Washington, D.C. by CCLP director Geoffrey Cowan with Alec Ross, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior adviser for Innovation, and Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, head of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Conference in April 2011 at the University of California at Berkeley’s information school on technology and human rights. The mix of people involved the event is a microcosm of the intellectual areas and interests coming together to create communities of practice around ICT for humanity: information sciences, communication, law, human rights, humanitarian, and international development.
“Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 8:00 am – Wednesday, April 27, 2011, 4:00 pm, David Brower Center, Berkeley
Information technologies are gaining a significant role in advancing human rights research and advocacy. But technology alone will not make the difference; what will is the combination of human rights defenders with the tools specifically designed to support their work.
In May 2009 UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center hosted “Soul of the New Machine”, an international conference focused on exploring the intersection of human rights, technology, and new media. Over 250 leading thinkers, civil society members, activists, programmers, and entrepreneurs had the chance to assess the ‘lay of the land’ and discuss emerging technologies related to evidence gathering / documentation and advocacy and outreach. The conference was designed to be a meeting point between the tech-savvy world and the human rights community.
Two years later, much progress in the practice and implementation of human rights and technology projects call for a new opportunity to share experiences, best practices, and lessons learned from deploying technology in the field. Building on the success of the 2009 conference, Advancing the New Machine: Human Rights and Technology will convene human rights practitioners and technologists to discuss the progress, successes, and challenges that have emerged.
Sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation; Humanity United; the Stanford Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law; the UC Berkeley School of Information; The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative; the Payson Center for International Development; the Berkeley Center for New Media; Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Human Rights Science; and the UC Berkeley School of Law.”