Senate President Gorghiu,
State Counselor Turza,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you to the Romanian Senate, the Prime Minister’s office, and the International Justice Mission for inviting me here today and making this critical discussion possible. The U.S. Embassy is committed to continue working with our Romanian and international partners to better combat human trafficking and support victims of this heinous crime. I am particularly enthusiastic about joining this panel today on tech-facilitated trafficking—a fast and insidiously growing trend. As with all forms of transnational crimes, tech-facilitated human trafficking is a global challenge that can only be eradicated through our combined and coordinated efforts.
Understanding the urgency of addressing this threat, President Biden recently established new interagency task forces to monitor and combat trafficking and to address online harassment and abuse. These task forces are exploring ways to strengthen anti-trafficking policies and laws – including studying the escalating phenomenon of tech-facilitated trafficking and how we can also harness technology to impede and stop traffickers.
We already know that traffickers use social media to find and exploit individuals in vulnerable situations … they advertise fake job opportunities, they use encrypted apps to communicate, share sexually explicit digital content and livestream abuse, and use ride-sharing apps to arrange travel and maintain control over victims’ movements, move criminal transactions through anonymized financial platforms, and use digital surveillance to further monitor their victims. Criminals are using a whole array of technology to traffic people, sometimes without ever having to physically connect with them.
At the same time, technology presents us with new and innovative tools to disrupt and combat trafficking. In the United States, our new national anti-TIP action plan includes several priority actions to use technology to tackle trafficking and protect victims. For example, U.S. government agencies are partnering with tech companies to locate vulnerable children who are missing from the foster care system. Government agencies are working with the social media companies to identify barriers and solutions related to voluntary reporting of suspected human trafficking on their platforms.
Recently the U.S. intelligence community built a collaborative interagency platform to gather and share relevant intelligence from federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement on the use of advanced technologies like the dark web, cryptocurrencies, and anonymous payment platforms that facilitate human trafficking. This, along with other existing U.S. government tools like StreamView, a livestream investigation tool developed by the Department for Homeland Security, allows agents to streamline their investigative processes and better aggregate huge amounts of raw data. These new tools are not only significantly enhancing agents’ effectiveness and efficiency, but they are also saving lives. To date, this technology has contributed to dozens of rescued victims, arrests, and new case leads.
These emerging technologies are also facilitating outreach to local communities, schools, and the private sector to educate people on how to recognize and protect themselves against possible trafficking. Victims’ advocates and service providers are using these new technologies to perform trainings and share best practices across borders to help victims and their families rebuild their lives post-trauma.
Experiences in both our countries have shown that governments cannot tackle these issues alone. Combating tech-facilitated trafficking requires the combined efforts of international partners, communities, NGOs, churches and houses of worship, companies, and governments. It is essential that governments continue to partner with civil society and the private sector and that we all continue to work together to share information and best practices to find creative solutions to prevent, protect, and prosecute this crime.
I will end here by congratulating the organizers for addressing such an important issue. The refugee crisis and worrying trends in online abuse during the COVID pandemic are teaching us lessons about how human traffickers can take advantage of breakdowns, conflicts, and crises to recruit victims. Collaborations like ours here today are critical for shaping our understanding of how traffickers adapt and abuse technology. They are also an opportunity to reflect on how we can take full advantage of technology and the ways it can help us prevent and respond to human trafficking.