Computer Crime Research Center


Technology Is a Double-Edged Sword: Illegal Human Trafficking in the Information Age

Date: March 05, 2005
Source: Computer Crime Research Center
By: Judge Mohamed CHAWKI and Dr. Mohamed WAHAB

Trafficking in human beings is a major concern for the global community. The introduction, growth, and utilisation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been accompanied by an increase in illegal exploitation and abuse of technology for criminal activities. With respect to cyberspace, the Internet is increasingly used as a tool and medium by transnational organised crime. Human trafficking is an obvious form of organised crime that has been affected by the global revolution in ICT. This form of illegal trafficking is not exclusive to sexual exploitation with respect to women or children trafficking but also covers indentured servitude and child labour. This new form of slavery violates fundamental and basic human rights and freedoms, and transcends national boundaries and territories to negatively impact on numerous countries across the globe. It is estimated that over 900,000 people are being trafficked every year.
This illicit activity is also connected with other forms of transnational criminal behavior such as corruption, fraud, coercion, and money laundering. Thus, there is persisting need for international cooperation, especially between countries of origin, transit, and destination to stamp out such illicit activities and protect the fundamental rights of powerless victims.
Although new techniques are constantly being implemented and regulations being adopted to combat and eradicate diverse forms of human trafficking, yet ICTs are also providing new means and tools that facilitate human trafficking, especially for sexual exploitation. On such a basis, these new forms of organised crime present new challenges to lawmakers, law enforcement agencies, and transnational human rights organisations. This necessitates the existence of an effective supra-national as well as domestic mechanisms that monitor the utilisation of ICT for criminal activities and uphold essential human rights and freedoms.
Accordingly, this white paper seeks to address and analyse the following issues: Firstly, the impact of ICTs on trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and the techniques used. Secondly, an analysis of the existing legislative and regulatory framework and their efficiency in combating this form of cross-border organised crime will be provided, taking the European Union as a case study. Finally, the paper will conclude by discussing the steps that should be taken to protect human rights and minimise the risk of utilising ICTs in illegal criminal activities, especially with respect to human trafficking.

I. The Use of the ICTs in Trafficking in Human Beings

A) A Study of the Phenomenon
1) Understanding the Concept of Trafficking in Human Beings
Many different definitions of trafficking in human beings have been suggested by scholars, domestic law, and international agreements. Amongst the most influential definitions, is the one offered by the United Nations protocol to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons especially women and children supplementing the United Nations convention against transnational organised crime takes the term trafficking in human beings to mean :
“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”.
We should notice that trafficking is not Smuggling. Smuggling is generally voluntary, where a person agrees to be trans-ported, usually across a border. The relationship between the smuggler and the person being smuggled usually ends when the border is crossed. Smuggling fees are paid up front or perhaps upon arrival. On the other hand, trafficking is not voluntary: trafficked persons are lied to, tricked and may be forced into crossing a border. The relationship between the transporter and the victim continues well after they reach the destination. The trafficker holds the victim’s documents, threatens them or their family if they do not obey him. Traffickers impose large debts on victims of trafficking for ‘transportation’ and force victims to work off these debts. Smuggling can turn into trafficking when the smuggler uses threats of harm or coercion against the person smuggled or ‘sells’ the person and transport debt to a trafficker.
2) Human Factor
The use of ICTs in trafficking in human beings involves the utilisation of computers and / or networks. However, as sophisticated as technology had become and as fascinating as the science of artificial intelligence (AI) might be, we are not yet at the point where computers can-by themselves-engage in criminal activity. The machines are wonderfully compliant and totally amoral. Trafficking in human beings by the use of ICTs always involves at least one human being who plans, prepares, and initiates the criminal act.
a) Understanding the Traffickers
Traffickers may be freelancers or members of organized criminal networks. They may recruit and find potential victims through advertisements in local newspapers offering good jobs at high pay in exciting cities or use fraudulent travel, modeling and matchmaking agencies to lure unsuspecting young men and women into trafficking schemes. A trafficker may be a family friend or someone well-known within the community who is able to convince the families that their children will be safer and better taken care of in a new place. Traffickers often mislead parents into believing that their children will be taught a useful skill or trade - but the children end up enslaved in small shops, on farms, or in domestic servitude. Many types of traffickers depend on the use of a computer network to accomplish the criminals act. In such cases, technology is directly used to commit the crime.

b) The Victims
Victims include: men, women and children, although most agree that women and children are more often victims of trafficking. Generally, traffickers prey on those most vulnerable: people who are very poor, who have disabilities, the very young or old, people who have low literacy skills and educational levels, or people who cannot speak English. Women are lured by promises of employment as shopkeepers, maids, nannies, or waitresses but then find themselves forced into prostitution upon arrival to their destination. Many victims are unaware that their travel documents will be seized, they will have to repay an enormous debt, or that they will be subject to brutal beatings if their earnings are unsatisfactory. These victims do not know how to escape the violence or where to go for help. The victims generally avoid authorities out of fear of being jailed or deported, especially if they have fraudulent documents. Traffickers often move victims from their home communities to other areas -- within their country or to foreign countries -- where the victim is often isolated, unable to speak the language and unfamiliar with the culture. Most importantly, the victims lose their support network of family and friends, thus making them more vulnerable to the traffickers’ demands and threats.

c) The Users in ICTs Supported Trafficking
Actually, we limited the analysis of the users to collectors of child pornography, stalkers and buyers. Some of the distributors of pornography on the Internet started off as collectors, and then decided to profit from their collections. Other sex offenders such as pedophiles can engage children on many levels, from sexual talk to enticing
them into physical contact. Lastly there are those who buy women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

1. Collectors of Pornographic Materials
Acquiring a computer and accessing the Internet enables to get satisfaction from images and fantasy and meet a virtual community of people who reinforce their behavior. They may develop a sense of confidence in themselves for their new computer skills and success at building a large collection. Most start out accessing adult pornography, and then move on to child pornography. They continually move up to more sophisticated technologies and more extreme forms of sexual exploitation of children, either in seeking more harmful, extreme images, or the physical sexual abuse of children. Collecting these materials is an important psychological process and is directly connected to acquiring new technological skills. The offender becomes increasingly “empowered” by the combination of a physical collection, sexual satisfaction, computer skills and a supportive online community.
2. The Stalkers
In fact the Internet has become a favored site for stalking children. Sex offender can engage children on many levels, from sexual chat to enticing them into physical contact. The many ways of disguising a person's identity has allowed many child sex stalkers to commit sex crimes against children with impunity. During a three year Internet law enforcement project, conducted by the Keene Police Department, New Hampshire, USA, 200 offenders were arrested who targeted male children. In this project, police officers entered chat rooms and newsgroups pretending to be boys. Forty-eight of those men were “travellers,” meaning they stalked boys online and eventually travelled to meet...

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