The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) alliance is an informal platform for advocacy and cooperation against trafficking in persons that includes international and civil society organizations. Sustainable Rescue attended the 19thalliance conference to understand how countries are using technology to support actor organizations in the processes in Prevent, Prosecute and Protect.  The following is the opinion of the Sustainable Rescue team after careful review of the general session panel discussions.

The simple definition of technology is applying scientific knowledge to find answers and fix problems. In today’s hyperconnected world, it is traffickers who expertly leverage technology to fix problems that expand their business models, increase victim vulnerability, and sustain profitability. Current technology such as social media platforms, Internet services and messenger apps enable traffickers to remain invisible and untraceablethroughout operations in recruitment, victim surveillance and control, and financial transactions.

OSCE has documented seven technical innovation areas currently in use in anti-trafficking efforts: blockchain technology; facial recognition and comparison; forensic analysis; language forensics; artificial intelligence, big data analysis and data visualization; extraction tools for electronic services; and geolocation. However, technology may create more problems than it fixes.

The biggest challenge is how to transform technology into an asset for prosecution. Developers are using big data analysis and visualization software for law enforcement to gain understanding of the scope and interconnection of criminal networks. However, digital investigations to collect and use data are rarely valid as court evidence. Legal gaps and restrictions, national policies, capacity building and data sharing impede progress. Current technology innovations are often developed for specific purposes in a specific country and are not scalable either within the country or transferable across borders. To address this issue, the OSCE recommendation includes increased multi-agency collaboration based on unified national digital rollout strategies, government investment in technology and policy change.

Victim identification software solutions are gaining ground as a technology asset. The Pan-European Victim Case Management System is currently in a pilot phase. This system enables NGOs to increase their ability to collect, store, and manage victims’ information that enables faster and deeper insights from vulnerable groups. Tech companies are engaging with victims to gain insider knowledge on trafficker operational methods. Developers are now cracking code words (language forensics) and using messenger apps to offer victims a unique opportunity to safely reach out to first responders. Victim consultation has revealed that the sex buyers are often violent. Internet bot technology has been developed that can identify and disrupt online sex buyers. In support of a global movement to interpret and react on trafficking signals, two innovations are interesting: webcams working with intelligent audio sensors and apps for police to detect the slightest indication of trafficking. A critical success factor for technology evolution in the victim identification process will be scalability of solutions and capability building in hotline call centers and among first responders.

The most tangible technology impact occurs in the Prevent processes in labor exploitation, where the private sector is investing in mobile apps to empower their employees. Examples at the conference included digital contract management based on blockchain technology and grievance platforms with real-time dashboards that transform brand name companies and their suppliers into ethical sector clusters to rapidly access and address workplace issues and support healthy local economies.

The conference was also a discussion platform for how to improve and expand technology as an anti-trafficking asset. John Richmond, United States Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, shared five principles to turn technology into an asset: Understand the need for technology before implementing a solution; Understand how technology will impact end-user operations; Avoid over-promising what technology can actually deliver; Keep it simple; and Ensure that progress can be measured.  Sustainable Rescue agrees with these practioner-level principles as well OSCE recommendations to governments to support, partner, invest, legislate and measure impact of anti-trafficking technology solutions.  We believe that these principles and recommendations will be successful with white spot solutions in the short-term, but will fail to address the goal of turning technology in to an asset.

The world is already operating in a digital economy in which human trafficking is flourishing with an ever growing inter-connectedness between people, businesses, devices, data, and processes. The European Commission recommends Member States develop a digital strategy to promote peace and well-being and the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and respect for human rights. A poor economy is the primary source of vulnerability for all forms of exploitation. The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) is a composite index that summarizes relevant indicators (connectivity, human capital, use of internet services, integration of digital technology and digital public services). The 2018 DESI Index ranked Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands as having the most advanced digital economies in the EU. Interestingly, these countries have included the same technology components (big data analysis, cybersecurity, blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, etc.) in their national plans to spark innovative economic and social growth as OSCE now advises Member States to employ to combat human trafficking. The lack of inclusion of the 3P paradigm processes in the national digital plans may be the reason that legislation and policy is always one step behind traffickers.

At Sustainable Rescue, we know that technology is not a solution in itself. Opportunity and risk lay in how technology is designed and deployed for demonstrable process improvement. We propose that governments develop digital economies that include a Trafficking in Human Beings National EcoSystem. This digital infrastructure can be based on the same pillars already in place to enable all anti-trafficking organizations to share information and measure impact in a secure and energy-efficient way. Ecosystems are by nature collaborative. Trust grows and strengthens through the continual interaction of all stakeholders towards a common goal. Trust networks play an important role because they foster the exchange of different ecosystem requirements and ensure fit-for-purpose results that are scalable and future-proof.

Categories: Technology