Technology's Role in Human Trafficking
The United States Department of Justice defines human trafficking as a crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services or commercial sex. Tactics for recruiting victims have existed since the dawn of time with vulnerable people, forced or coerced into trafficking. Those most at risk for recruiting include vulnerable demographics. This includes groups such as homeless people or runaways, domestic violence victims, undocumented and documented immigrants. The internet has made the facilitation of human trafficking easier, but it has also improved circumstances for victims and survivors. This article will highlight technology’s role in human trafficking.

Technology’s Role in Human Trafficking

Prior to the use of technology and in some areas where access to the internet is limited, recruiters depend on personal social networks, the lure of wealth and romantic relationships to recruit victims. In addition, women and girls, already involved with the trafficker and known as bottoms, will assist the trafficker in recruiting other victims.

One way in which technology changes this dynamic is by allowing recruiters to operate through the veil of anonymity. Traffickers often conduct conversations via the Dark Web. According to Europol’s Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment from the year 2015, 40 percent of criminal-to-criminal payments take place in Bitcoin, a decentralized digital currency without a central bank.

Anyone can become a sex trafficking victim because access to the internet furthers the reach and influence of a trafficker. If they are unable to take advantage of socioeconomic vulnerability, then they will be able to use a potential victim’s naivete in online interactions to their advantage. Further exploitation of the victim often includes threats of using commercial sex acts that people have documented. Traffickers might threaten to expose the images, which is a fairly common exploitation tactic. Laws against nonconsensual pornography or revenge porn are increasing, although New York’s laws need improvements.

Tracking Victims

Technology’s role in human trafficking becomes increasingly disturbing, considering the abilities to track the victim’s every move. This could potentially involve the use of GPS technology; however, traffickers have gone as far as embedding GPS tracker chips into their victim’s bodies. An article in Principia Scientific International, which is legally registered in the United Kingdom as a company incorporated for charitable purposes, detailed the story of a doctor x-raying a patient who had handed him a note saying, “I have a tracker in me.” Both the doctor and the victim in the story chose to remain anonymous for safety reasons. This is especially alarming considering an RFID chip was, in fact, embedded in the victim. Often used for pets, RFID chips, short for radio frequency identification, utilize electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to object.

The Bill: AB226

On March 4, 2019, KOLO-TV featured a story regarding the bill, AB226. The bill would ban forced human microchipping. Democratic Assemblyman, Skip Daly, presented the bill at a legislative hearing in Carson City. The network stated that it wanted to show the story after a Wisconsin company offered optional implantable microchips to its employees. Many of the people interviewed for the story appeared to believe that this issue had science fiction overtones. They further stated that “no good could come of (the use of microchips).” This implies the ambiguity of the results of such a procedure and presents issues that could possibly occur in the future.

However, the story of the victim at the doctor’s office signals that this could be a present-day issue. Despite this fact, most do not hear of the issue. It is unknown how many other victims have had microchips implanted into their bodies. Technology’s role in human trafficking seems bleak so far; however, when people use technology correctly, it can be a powerful tool in anti-trafficking efforts. Further, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore created the company, Thorn. The company “house(s) the first engineering and data science team focused solely on developing new technologies to combat online child sexual abuse.” Despite these positive efforts, human trafficking continues to be an alarming issue globally.

Julia Stephens
Photo: Wikimedia Commons