Human trafficking brings in over $150 billion dollars every year, making it the second most profitable crime in the world. Only drug trafficking generates more illegal income. Like drug trafficking, human trafficking is diverse, complex, and global, making it difficult to combat. Forced labor, sex trafficking, organ trafficking, and other forms of modern-day slavery and human exploitation and commodification take place all over the world, usually involving violence, intimidation, and manipulation of victims. Most victims of trafficking are female, and half of those trafficked are children. Fortunately, there are teams of experts who have dedicated their lives to ending this barbaric practice.
Investigative techniques to fight U.S. human trafficking
In the United States, a wide range of federal, state and local law enforcement and investigative agencies are collaborating to combat human trafficking, and investigative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are quickly becoming their most potent weapons. Many financial institutions have also joined the fight, applying AI to assist law enforcement agencies in identifying financial activities linked to human trafficking, investigating the identities and networks of traffickers, building cases against offenders, and freezing illegal assets.
One of the most ingenious and effective ways that AI systems are used is through algorithms that isolate transaction patterns in human trafficking networks, creating profiles of how these criminal organizations interact with financial institutions and purchasing platforms for travel, accommodations, and various commodities that traffickers tend to purchase when they add new victims to their organizations. These profiles establish patterns in ranges in types and quantities of purchases (including types of toiletries, tickets, clothes, equipment). When purchases are made within those parameters, they are flagged for investigation. Of course, these technologies are also applied to analysis of patterns in standard banking activities, as certain trends in times, locations, and amounts of deposits, withdrawals, purchases, and transfers can also indicate criminal activity.
Using AI technology to accelerate investigations
Some of the other applications of AI and machine learning for combatting human trafficking include social media analysis and image technology to identify any traces of missing persons that may have appeared somewhere on the surface internet, deep web, or dark web. It is common for sex traffickers to use social media to advertise through social media and the dark web, often including pictures of the trafficked victims. It would take a team of experts, weeks or months to comb through the internet manually to find images of missing children, but the new technologies can do this in minutes, with incredible accuracy. They can also be programmed to identify phrases and other patterns in communication that indicate (overtly or covertly) that the services of trafficked victims are being offered. The best investigative tech companies can do this type of language analysis in over 100 languages.
While criminal activity becomes ever more sophisticated, criminal reliance on the internet for communications, logistics, and financial activity provides law enforcement agencies and the organizations that support them with crucial information and access. These investigative technologies greatly improve law enforcement’s chances at stopping one of the most inhumane of all criminal offenses and gaining freedom and justice for tens of thousands of victims.