The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Sherrie Caltagirone, executive director of the Global Emancipation Network (GEN), a Washington state nonprofit using data analytics to combat human trafficking. Caltagirone discussed the value of using data in making efforts to fight human trafficking more effective.
Joshua New: What does using data to combat human trafficking actually looks like in practice?
Sherrie Caltagirone: Global Emancipation Network is a world-wide nonprofit dedicated to ending all forms of human trafficking through coordinated use of technology and data. We partner with leading technology companies to create a seamless approach to counter-human trafficking intelligence gathering and management. To identify victims, traffickers, and trends related to human trafficking, we gather data on the open, deep, and dark web—whether it’s an ad placed on an escort site or an H1B visa blacklist. We join text with public records data and enrich it with geospatial tools, natural language processing, and more, and process images through specialized image analysis tools to gain insights into the people in those images, such as their age, gender, ethnicity, and other attributes. We make this data and associated toolsets available free of charge to all organizations with a valid counter-human trafficking mission via our multi-tenant intelligence and data analytics platform, Minerva. These users, who come from law enforcement, government, academia, nonprofits, and the private sector, are also able to store and process their own trafficking data securely within Minerva and share that data at their discretion with other users within the ecosystem at varying levels of granularity.
Approximately 45 million men, women, and children are trafficked each year across the globe generating an estimated $150 billion for traffickers and organized criminal networks. The U.S. Department of State’s latest Trafficking in Persons Report stated that approximately 100,000 victims were identified across the globe in 2017. That’s an enormous gap between suspected victims and those rescued. However, like many other criminal enterprises, traffickers are reliant on Internet-based applications to find and groom victims, organize transportation, and advertise their victims’ services. This reliance is also their weakness. Minerva is our data- and technology-based solution to help shrink that gap and reduce the time to action for our users, ultimately saving lives.
New: How do your methods differ from traditional approaches to thwarting human trafficking? Did they just not use as much data, or is the difference more substantial?
Caltagirone: At Global Emancipation Network, we consider trafficking as a process that often steps through multiple phases including recruitment, transportation, entrapment, brokering, delivery, and exploitation. We apply an analytic framework called the Human Trafficking Kill Chain to this process that enables us to consider the assets traffickers use in their business model and exposes potential disruption opportunities those assets present. In doing so, we have deeper insight into the data sectors and owners that can force the counter-human trafficking battle from a reactive stance—where trafficking has already occurred and is thus now the subject of law enforcement and government action—into a more proactive posture. By partnering with private sector partners, particularly in transportation, hospitality, and the financial sector, we gain both visibility into the earlier phases of trafficking as well as the ability to affect early and stronger disruption. Through this process, we are able to assess all the disruption opportunities present, including website seizures, and then monitor the effects the disruption had across the space. Without a coordinated effort across all stakeholders, intelligence-backed action that causes a strong, long-lasting impact, some disruptions will have only minimal effect which is well understood as criminal displacement.
Other tools on the market are presently available only to law enforcement, government, and government-mandated organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and tend to focus on sex trafficking only, often only within the United States or North America. Minerva, and Global Emancipation Network as an organization, combats all forms of trafficking against men, women, and children all over the world. Furthermore, our tools target websites that other tools do not, including those behind authentication and paywalls and those sites requiring external IP addresses. That said, we sincerely applaud the multitude of data- and technology-led organizations and approaches we’re seeing in the counter-human trafficking space now and love exploring how GEN and Minerva can interact with others to walk in sidestep in our shared mission.
New: Can you describe how an organization working with GEN might actually use Minerva?
Caltagirone: Organizations with a valid counter-human trafficking mission may apply for free access to Minerva via minerva.globalemancipation.ngo. Organizations undergo a thorough vetting process before individuals from that organization are able to apply, and they likewise go through a validation process. As Minerva is primarily an investigations tool, users typically begin in one of three ways.
First, the user has a piece of known information on which they want to search for related data, such as a name, a photograph, or a telephone number. From there, they gather additional data such as ads, additional photos, etc., to add to an investigation. Depending on their organizational role, they may choose to freeze assets if they’re a bank or request a subpoena or warrant if they’re a law enforcement officer. Ultimately, this type of user wants to take action related to an individual—either a suspected trafficker or a suspected victim of trafficking. Minerva empowers organizations to make better decisions faster using the same tool.
Sometimes, the user wants to discover new leads, such as individuals in their jurisdiction or interest area in the past 24 hours. Using behavioral analytics and known indicators, Minerva delivers triaged leads and enables investigators to spend their resources—time and money—in the ways best aligned with their mission.
The user could also be interested in studying trends and making policy and/or resource decisions, and uses Minerva to explore areas such as the most frequently used websites, new movement routes, or potential trafficking activity surrounding a high profile event.
Ultimately, Minerva is used differently by members of different sectors and for answering different questions, whether they are operational or research-based in nature.
New: In terms of effectiveness, just how good is Minerva at aiding human trafficking investigations compared to other methods? Is there anything you’d like it to be able to do but that isn’t possible due to technological or other reasons?
Caltagirone: In a single, two-month investigation of a single U.S.-based website, Global Emancipation Network identified 989 victims and traffickers with high confidence using Minerva. When the current and potential user base is considered, the global force multiplier effect is clear. We’re excited to shrink the gap between the 100,000 identified victims and the 45 million supposed victims using these tools and methods.
In the next year or two, we will focus our efforts in developing a companion tool to Minerva aimed at automating investigations and queries in the private sector to further empower those users to combat trafficking in the earliest stages of the process. We’re also investing in improving image and video analysis to our specific use cases with several technology companies and we’re looking forward to the impact that will have, particularly in video cases and those involving age-progressed individuals.
New: The Global Emancipation Network partners with academics and policymakers to help them conduct research based on the data you’ve collected. Has any interesting research come of this yet, or is it too early to tell?
Caltagirone: We have worked hard to use data to measure the effect of disruption decisions, from website shutdowns to mandatory supply chain disclosures. These learnings are informing the counter-trafficking domain across stakeholders to make decisions that ultimately save lives. Our data was used to advise on counter-trafficking legislation and to develop tools in the private sector to screen for trafficking-related content. We are currently partnered with organizations looking to combat trafficking as part of the international air transport journey, those monitoring border crossings and refugee flows, organizations looking to screen for trafficking during health care encounters, and more. Once trafficking is considered as a data problem, data solutions begin to emerge. We’re excited to be at the forefront of some of this research.