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.
Tech Gets Enlisted In The War Against Human Trafficking
By SHEILA RILEY, FOR INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY Posted 12/03/2010 04:38 PM ET
The fight against human trafficking is using a few new weapons: texting, iPhone apps and smarter passports.
An estimated 12.3 million adults and children around the world are trafficked — compelled in a variety of ways to work against their will — the U.S. State Department says.
“It’s basically modern-day slavery,” said Mark Latonero, research director for the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center. “It’s a pernicious and widespread global problem.”
The term “trafficking” covers a wide area.
“It’s not just forced prostitution, it’s also forced labor — people working in slaverylike conditions on farms, fishing boats, in nail salons, whatever,” Latonero said.
He’s working on a project to make it easier to get help for trafficking victims via cell phone.
The Technology and Trafficking in Persons Research Initiative will allow concerned citizens, potential trafficking victims and possibly victims themselves to text information to a hotline. The project is led by the Annenberg Center.
Texts will be sorted by a computer and sent to appropriate agencies that could help, Latonero says.
The initiative focuses on the Mekong region in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, southern China and Burma.
“This part of the world is a major source, transit and destination region for men, women and children forced into labor and prostitution,” Latonero said.
Cell Phones Aplenty
The program could be in place by mid-2011 in Thailand, with government funding and philanthropic grants expected to cover the $500,000-plus launch costs.
Though residents of the region are extremely poor — which makes them vulnerable to trafficking — most have cell phones, Latonero says.
“That,” he said, “is our opportunity.”
Phones are used on another front in the fight against trafficking. An iPhone application for consumers concerned about whether forced or child labor was used to create their purchase became available last month.
The app, Free2Work, is a joint project of Not For Sale, a San Francisco anti-slavery nonprofit, and the International Labor Rights Forum, a nonprofit advocacy organization for workers. Juniper Networks (JNPR) funded the development of the application, which is free.
With the app, shoppers can access information about the labor practices of some 60 companies, including Nike (NKE), Hasbro (HAS), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Apple (AAPL). It rates the companies’ labor practices. Not For Sale compiles information from company Web sites and public databases to create its corporate ratings.
“It’s when people are shopping that they really need that information,” said Dave Batsone, president of Not For Sale.
(See original Investor’s Business Daily Article here).
This conference takes place Oct 14-15, 2010, in Yorba Linda, Orange County, California. Interesting mix of speaker – mostly faith based anti-trafficking groups, law enforcement, and NGOs. And Jack Dorsey, founder/creator of Twitter will also speak on “Organizing 2.0: Putting a face on social media: Can social media be a tool for change, or is it simply used for connecting with constituents and raising funds? Social innovators will discuss how today’s movement can embrace new media and become more effective.”
Of course, there are many other dimensions of social media with regard to human trafficking…not least of which is facilitating the business.
Created in the autumn of 2008, End Slavery Now (ESN) is a charitable organization based in Washington DC. Their mission is to utilize the widespread capabilities of the Internet to help fight against human trafficking. To do this, they have created an aggregate website that both serves to inform the public about trafficking while being a host to a bevy of links and information in how to get involved.
“Our purpose is to support the work of grassroots activists and anti-trafficking organizations, and to grow and advance the anti-trafficking movement, by consolidating and sharing resources, best practices, and events; and by promoting their work through various social media channels and free listings in the New Underground Railroad™.
ESN leverages the power of the Internet combined with database technology to empower members of the anti-trafficking movement to efficiently coordinate their efforts to combat slavery; to share information with partners and stakeholders; to coordinate grassroots efforts through social networking; and to make meaningful contributions in the anti-trafficking movement.”
Their website consists of: an up-to-date global news feed (as of 10/5/10), a self-published blog, photo and video galleries, a basic overview of the human trafficking situation, a global calendar of anti-trafficking events, governmental and organizational links that are anti-trafficking based, and additional ways to keep receiving updates via email to social networking tools.