Research director Mark Latonero, Ph.D. was interviewed on CNN International about CCLP’s Technology and Trafficking Initiative. Appearing on the Quest Means Business program on Friday, September 9, 2011, Latonero discussed the prevalence of mobile phones in developing countries and the ways individuals in these regions can use technology to aid victims and capture traffickers. He also expressed caution about the risks of using communication technologies that can be tracked so that individuals would need to be assured of anonymity and safety when reporting possible cases of trafficking. The segment was a part of CNN’s Freedom Project series, which is raising awareness to ending modern-day slavery.
Well, all this week on QUEST MEANS BUSINESS, we’re looking at the role of technology in tackling human trafficking, a part of the CNN Freedom Project, which shines a light on the horrors of modern-day slavery.
Here are a few examples where technology is already being used against trafficking. This poster shows an anti-trafficking hotline in Cambodia. Mobile phones can be used to report crimes or receive warnings, even in remote areas.
In Haiti, encouraging people to text trafficking information to U.N. officials running camps and shelters.
And it’s a sickening thought, but if traffic — but traffickers can use the disruption after disasters to conceal their crimes. When infrastructure has been damaged or in remote areas without power, this solar phone charging station can make sure that those at risk remain in touch.
Mark Latonero is the research director at the Annenberg Center on Communication, Leadership & Policy at the University of Southern California.
The center is working on ways to create partnerships to get anti-trafficking technology into use.
Mark joins us now live from Los Angeles.
We really appreciate your time.
Just explain, if you will, how mobile phones are so useful in this work, as you discovered.
MARK LATONERO, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Well, mobile phones are the fastest growing communication technology in history. And it just so happens that the poor and the vulnerable are the most susceptible to human trafficking. But in the developing world, this population has more and more access to mobile phones.
In Haiti, about 35 to 40 percent of the population has a mobile phone. In Cambodia, where I also went for this research, the population has about 50 percent penetration of mobile phones and in places like Thailand, it’s almost — it almost reaches 100 percent of the population with mobile phones.
So the idea is how we can use these technologies, like mobile, like Internet, in ways which could monitor and combat and disrupt the trafficking trade.
FOSTER: How can you?
Give us an example.
LATONERO: Well, for one, a lot of hotlines are out there in places like Thailand and Cambodia. Some of them can receive text messages, SMS. And so one idea that we are developing is having a central number such that — that the public, the general public, if they see something that is suspicious about trafficking, they can text into this number. It will reach a variety of NGOs and authorities who can act on that information and perhaps rescue a trafficking victim or investigate a trafficker.
FOSTER: And because the — the mobile phones are so common in these areas, it probably is the best communications system, isn’t it, because it can also be done anonymously and, also, it’s cheap?
LATONERO: Right. There — there’s a lot of pay as you go cards that individuals can use. I — I do have to say, also, that there’s a flip side to it, because traffickers are also using mobile phones, the Internet, even social networking sites, to reach a greater population and exploit a greater number of people across geographic boundaries.
So, on the one hand, these technologies can be used to combat trafficking. And on the other, they’re actually being used to facilitate trafficking. And that’s a very — that’s exactly the line that we are trying to study and research and develop technologies in this area.
FOSTER: So how long do you think until an idea like the one you suggested is going to be up and running?
Because it must be quite simple to do. You just need the support of a couple of companies.
LATONERO: That’s what we thought. And there are companies like Digicel in Haiti and some mobile carriers in Thailand and Cambodia who were very helpful and also there’s NGOs who also can — are very helpful and are — are ready to help us now. The only problem is there are really three things that anyone who is trying to do implementations or interventions in the mobile space have to think about.
One, you mentioned anonymity. Sometimes texting is anonymous. Other — other times it can be tracked through geo location and other areas. So the safety of whoever is texting in is paramount.
Also, trust — how to get the public to trust that number that they are going to text in or dial into is someone that they can trust.
And — so I think those are the two main areas that people always have to think about. And, really, just the security of the — whoever is texting in is really paramount. So those things has to be thought through. It isn’t something that one should just jump into the market with.
FOSTER: It’s a great idea, though.
Mark Latonero, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.