In the area of combatting human trafficking, technology is both a help and a hindrance. As the tech sector evolved, it gave traffickers new and easier ways to recruit victims, with an accent on social media’s role. Now, advancements have been made to assist advocate agencies and law enforcement in monitoring illicit activity. Different technological systems are in place to locate and rescue victims, as well as to analyze and collect data used to arrest and prosecute traffickers. Technological advancements prove to be the quintessential double-edged sword of human trafficking across the globe.

A New Generation of Criminals

Long gone are the days when a human trafficker needs to have local contact with potential victims during the recruitment process. Today, social media plays a big role in how targets are found. This is especially true in the area of American minors trafficked within US borders. Traditional trafficking channels are still widely used, but technology has opened up a broader base, giving the newest generation of traffickers an avenue not known to generations preceding them.

Young prey for traffickers are regularly at-risk youth who are dissatisfied with their home environment. Such young people are lured with promises of attractive opportunities such as modeling or other entertainment industry careers. Skilled traffickers create a degree of trust prior to gaining control, and doing this through social media yields no-cost, untraceable online advertising.

Sex traffickers are not alone in their technological recruitment practices, as labor traffickers are also sourced from nefarious hiring agencies. In many countries, those with limited access to information and gainful employment fall victim to labor trafficking as they find attractive employment offers in other countries to be their avenue for a better life and the ability or send money back home to family. Many victims are under-educated, lack financial literacy and have no or limited access to technology. Informal migrant recruiting does not always lead to slave labor, but when state regulation and monitoring is evaded, the risk of labor trafficking increases.

Aboveboard businesses that fail to thoroughly analyze their supply chain could be indirectly linked to labor trafficking. The more extended and diverse a business’ supply chain is, the more capacity there is for business disruption, and less visibility and transparency. Former US Ambassador to combat trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca has called for “a hard look at the supply chains and labor sources behind the products we use every day.” He has stressed the importance of innovation and technology in addressing labor exploitation in supply chains.

Technology to Assist the Fight Against Human Trafficking

The spectrum of technology related to human trafficking is wide, and on the positive end, many companies and organizations have utilized technological advances to combat both labor and sex trafficking practices. Some of the most widely used technologies are:

FRDM The US-based company Made in a Free World introduced FRDM in 2014. One purpose of their supplier monitoring tool is to assist companies in analyzing their supply chains for indicators and evidence of human trafficking and other prohibited activities.

POEA Mobile The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration addressed the increased risk of labor trafficking in the Philippines by launching a mobile app to provide a platform to overseas job-seekers to check the legal status of job recruiters before they enter into a contractual agreement.

Palantir This private sector software and data analysis company enables Polaris, a US organization that operates the National Human Trafficking Resources Center (NHTRC), to apply analytics to the database of calls received to their national hotline. The technology allows Polaris to use mapping techniques to project the potential geographic locations of hotline calls.

PhotoDNA Microsoft’s PhotoDNA Cloud Service is available free of charge to qualifying organizations, and has made monitoring illicit online ads more manageable for law enforcement. Since 2009, this technology has helped curb the exploitation of children around the world by detecting millions of illegal images for reporting to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other appropriate authorities.

Spotlight Introduced by Thorn, Spotlight is software designed to aggregate data from Internet-based commercial sex advertisements. Law enforcement agencies who utilize Spotlight have seen a 43 percent reduction in investigation times. The company notes that the goal is to empower law enforcement to collaborate beyond jurisdictions or national borders, as this is key to successfully identifying victims who are moved frequently, or are broadcast in P2P on the dark web from a hidden location.

In addition to these tools, technology exists to assist the general public in reporting suspected cases of human trafficking. Any immediate concerns can be presented to local law enforcement, but the reality remains that many law enforcement agencies lack the training to properly deal with community tips in the trafficking realm.

The NHTRC operated by Polaris runs a 24/7 hotline to assist victims and community members. The hotline services can be accessed via email and through an online tip reporting webform. This year-round hotline is offered in over 200 languages. Polaris also maintains a Global Hotline Program that supports other countries looking to set up hotlines similar to the one used in the US. The NHTRC hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.

The CyberTipline, operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, is an outlet for the general population to report suspected exploitation of minors. Since 1998, CyberTipline has received over 4.3 million tips. The CyberTipline number is 1-800-THE-LOST.