Acton Institute Powerblog

Fighting Human Trafficking Through Technology

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For those fighting human trafficking, the battle is frustrating. Traffickers are typically one step ahead of law enforcement, and they are quite tech-savvy. Microsoft, along with other tech companies, is trying to change that.

According to Microsoft’s A. T. Ball:

Human trafficking is one of the largest, best-organized and most profitable types of crime, ranking behind only the illegal weapons and drug trades. It violates numerous national and international laws and has ensnared more than 25 million people around the world.

The problem is not merely one of criminal violence. The criminals who perpetrate and benefit from this trafficking are taking full advantage of information technology in plying their trade. We must work together to bring the advances in socio-technical research, privacy, interoperability, data sharing, cloud, and mobility to bear against trafficking.

Tech companies such as Microsoft believe they can help law enforcement by disrupting traffickers’ ability to use technology. By giving law enforcement better tools designed specifically to locate traffickers, there is an increased chance of saving lives. Ball explains:

This crime is a classic example of a transnational, asymmetric threat. The organizations are small and not well armed compared to the nations in which they operate, but they are adept at eluding, confounding and circumventing traditional law enforcement and security organizations, often through the use of up-to-date technology that enables real time, anonymous international communication. Like the Internet, traffickers do not recognize national boundaries, and they use tools such as the Dark Web—the uncharted and hidden sites that support criminal and underground activities—online social media, and the cloud to locate, recruit and transport victims.

At the same time, law enforcement and other public safety organizations often lag in the adoption of these technologies for their own use. These agencies are conservative by nature and are constrained by austerity budgets that limit their ability to acquire the latest tools and gain expertise in using them. This makes it imperative that the IT industry help these agencies leverage the power of technology to combat human trafficking and make the challenge less one-sided.

Ball intends to write a series of columns regarding the IT industries attempts to help fight human trafficking. Read his current column here.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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