|Bradley W. Lane, PhD|
November 6th marks the UN General Assembly’s International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. The tolls of armed conflict reach far beyond the dead and wounded on the battlefield. Warfare – whether between nations, civil unrest, paramilitary groups, or other guerilla forms of armed conflict – disrupts the ability of a society and economy to provide for its citizens and puts immense pressure on civilian populations to sustain living.
The criminal industry of human trafficking can prey upon these people, luring individuals with the promise of secure work and better living conditions into forced-sex and forced-labor servitude. The most recent estimates indicate that almost 28 million people worldwide are currently victims of human trafficking. These are people who have been defrauded and exploited and are kept in these conditions through fear of retribution from their trafficker or feeling like they have nowhere to go.
There have been significant efforts to raise awareness of the presence of trafficking and find, rescue, and heal survivors. But what if there were a way to detect human trafficking before it started? Metro Analytics is currently engaged in research on the use of advanced technologies to find victims and perpetrators of human trafficking during transit, domestically and internationally, through airports. Airports offer great potential for siting anti-human trafficking devices because of their high visibility checkpoints at security and plane alighting that all travelers must pass through. These characteristics offer the opportunity to apply advanced technology in identification and communications technology to stop traffickers and rescue victims and survivors in transit.
Airports currently feature signage with contact information and active QR codes that people can use to anonymously call for help and report suspicious activity, and use various forms of televised monitoring, identification scanning, and employee training to identify suspicions activity. But the continuing development of data analytics and communication technologies offers potential to drastically improve the effectiveness of efforts to train, identify, and stop trafficking in progress. Facial mapping at security checkpoints could be one solution. Instead of facial recognition – where facial contours are used to analyze patterns, which can be inaccurate and biased – biological characteristics are used to identify victims or perpetrators. Another solution involves observing potential signs of trafficking through high-resolution airport drive cameras at drop-off sites, which can help security identify victims and perpetrators. Transit monitoring is another approach where more advanced recognition technology or AI can be deployed to use data and information on suspected victims and traffickers to identify them in transit. Mobile apps can be used for security and law enforcement to coordinate efforts and emergency responses, or to provide rapid translation to overcome language barriers for victims seeking help. And anti-trafficking training using Virtual or Augmented Reality could significantly enhance the effectiveness of such programs while helping reduce bias and minimize human error in identifying trafficking.
Technological innovation is not a panacea, and such measures are only effective if they can be used while preserving privacy rights, minimizing bias, and are secure. But there is untapped potential for using technological advancements to rescue victims and catch perpetrators of human trafficking while they travel. If this potential can be harnessed, it could contribute to dismantling the human trafficking industry, and remove a major component of the toll warfare and armed conflict takes on our physical and social environment.