The World Day against Trafficking in Persons was initiated by the United Nations (UN) in 2013. It was established to raise awareness of victims of human trafficking and promote and protect their rights. This year’s theme is exploring the role technology plays as a tool that can both enable and impede human trafficking.
This is so timely. The plight of millions of Ukrainian refugees this year has highlighted the potential for technology to be used for good and bad. Initially, technology was championed as a way to connect vulnerable refugees with willing host families. All too quickly, however, this turned sour and we heard of numerous gangs and criminals using social media and technology to lure refugees to their homes and exploit them. Some technological platforms promised to check the credibility of the people making the offer and keep a record of all activity, but many did not.
In general, the internet and digital platforms have given traffickers and criminal gangs numerous new tools to recruit, exploit, and control victims. They can reach vulnerable individuals and make incredible promises, enticing them to leave the safety of their homes and travel to unknown places. The dark web has enabled traffickers to create an international web of deceit which is difficult for law enforcement to penetrate. As well as identifying, grooming and recruiting victims through social media, e-mails and messaging services, traffickers also use the technology to advertise services provided by victims and child photographical material.
Perpetrators are able to operate anonymously and with great speed and effectiveness. It is all too easy. Despite this, technology can also be harnessed for good. Large technology companies are working on tools, using artificial intelligence and machine learning, to spot illicit trafficking rings online and police forces are getting more sophisticated at ploughing through data to identify and stop criminal gangs.