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Congressional Briefing on Technology and Human Trafficking -- Part One

On May 18, 2012 a congressional briefing on “New Technological Approaches to Combating Modern-Day Slavery” was held focusing on the use of technology to deter human trafficking and increase awareness of its existence. The briefing was organized by SPSSI James Marshall Public Policy Scholar Angel W. Colón-Rivera who serves as Policy Advisor for Congressman Hastings. The briefing was organized into two panels of speakers, the first made up of representatives of government agencies and the second of non-governmentally affiliated organizations.

 
Panel 1
 
Allison Friedman, Deputy Director of the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, opened with an account from her previous service in California as Executive Director of NGO ASSET (Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking). She spoke about how slavery occurs at various level of the supply chain and how no product can claim to be untainted by slavery. She recounted how during her work in California she found that the very companies that took most responsibility in combating slavery in their production chain wanted to avoid being portrayed as such. These companies feared that in sharing the methods they used to eliminate slavery they would be seen as “the company with the slavery problem” rather than “the company with the slavery solution.” The solution to this was a California law that took effect in January this year. The California Supply Chain Transparency Act (SB 657) requires businesses that operate in California and make over $100 million globally to publically disclose what they are doing to eliminate slavery along their production chain. Yet Ms. Friedman stressed that public awareness and support was necessary to increase company accountability. One effort to capture this support is The Slavery Footprint, an animated survey that shows consumers just how connected they are to global slavery and human trafficking. This project, developed at the request of the State Department, is aimed to not only educate the public on the existence and prevalence of slavery but also to motivate them to do something about it. Survey takers are invited to install a free slavery footprint phone app that enables them to contact the stores they shop at and urge them to combat slavery along their production line.   
 
Increasing public involvement is critical to combating human trafficking as this area has not experienced as great of a groundswell support as other areas. Ms. Friedman said one difficulty is that victims of slavery are not connected to anyone in power. The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Person’s yearly budget of 20 million dollars equals 70 cents per estimated slave, an amount far smaller than those dedicated to other forms of trafficking. These limitations make the contribution from public and private sectors essential in the developing of new technologies for combating slavery.  
 
The second speaker, Senior Advisor of USAID Sohini Chatterjee, spoke of the efforts of the agency to incorporate technology to aid in combating trafficking in persons. Ms. Chatterjee cited the focus in Clinton and Shah’s forum on trafficking in persons, an increased focus on the prevention of trafficking and protection of trafficking victims rather than on the prosecution of perpetrators. Victims of human trafficking are often those in vulnerable positions, individuals without employment, females, youth and ethnic minorities. Ms. Chatterjee emphasized the need for government programs to partner with media projects and NGOs in order to develop new technology to aid in prevention and protection. One such effort is the Russian Stop Human Trafficking App Challenge, launched by USAID in partnership with the Demi and Ashton Foundation (DNA). The campaign, held in 2011 in Russia and surrounding states increased public awareness of modern human slavery by calling for an app that would provide most aid for trafficked persons. The winning app will be developed for mass production by private companies with the backing of USAID and its collaborating NGOs. Ms. Chatterjee also emphasized the need to work with the host countries of production slavery in order to increase their capacity to combat trafficking within their borders. Transnational collaboration would help governments prioritize their investments according to what techniques work best and thus increase the impact of all organizations involved. In addition, she spoke of endeavors to increase public participation in increasing awareness and combating trafficking, particularly about research grants available for students, graduate students, and professors to increase awareness and new ideas for combating trafficking.
 
The final speaker for the panel of government representatives was Michael Dunn, the Unit Chief for Homeland Security’s Investigations’ Child Exploitation Investigations Unit. Mr. Dunn discussed the need to develop ways in which the technologies that are currently enabling predators can be used to aid victims instead. He spoke specifically about child predators. Child abuse relates directly to slavery as it is the exploitation of the most vulnerable members of society. The use of technology has in many ways changed the mode of operation of sex offenders. Whereas previously offenders often travelled to different locations to exploit minors current technology enables offenders to exploit children halfway around the world without ever leaving their homes. By using social media, email, and video chat offenders can not only lure their victims to them, they can exploit children without ever physically being with the child, turning their virtual encounters into online child pornography. In an effort to curb child abusers and sex offenders ICE has coordinated with law enforcement agencies nationally and internationally. In 2003 the effort, called Operation Predator, recovered 2,000 victims and found that predators used multiple online platforms for targeting, transporting, and exploiting children. 
 
Mr. Dunn mentioned several difficulties in combating online exploitation of children. One was the problem of material evidence. Because servers such as Skype and Google video do not record webcam transmissions it is often necessary to locate the victim in order to prosecute the suspected predators. This leads to further difficulty as the widespread reach of internet means that victims are often very difficult if not impossible to locate. Anonymity software poses additional difficulties, making the hosts of child pornography websites impossible to trace or shut down. Mr. Dunn questioned whether current laws are sufficient to combat child exploitation today, when all cases involve technological aspects. He also called for increased partnership between law enforcement and the private sector, maintaining that such partnerships would equip law enforcement with the knowledge and skill necessary to develop new methods of using technology to combating exploitation. 
 
 
Click here for Part Two of this briefing report
 
 
Kristina A. Carter
SPSSI Summer Intern

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