Fighting Human Trafficking

In a recent blog post we examined the issue of what good Tony Ortega has brought into the world through his work. The answer is, not surprisingly: not much. There have been, however, consequences from his role supporting Backpage.

On Monday of this week Dr. Joseph P. Campbell Jr. presented on the use of technology in detecting human trafficking at the Alexander F. Carson lecture series hosted by A.O. Fox Hospital in New York.

Campbell leads the artificial intelligence technology and systems group at M.I.T.’s Lincoln Laboratory, one of 46 agencies to collaboratively develop Memex, a program of the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to support the White House’s 2014 big data initiative to overcome the limitations of general search engines.

“Human trafficking is a startlingly large economy and is rapidly growing,” Campbell said. “The scale of illicit activity conducted online greatly outpaced the tools traditionally used by investigators to combat human trafficking. This is a tool investigators can use to gain situational awareness about the players in the online sex economy.”

Memex has been used by the office of the District Attorney of New York since 2014, Campbell said, and has since transformed its ability to investigate trafficking arrests from less than 5% to 60% in 2017.

As we here understand only too well human trafficking remains a large and growing illicit economy. And it is one increasingly mediated online. The high volume and velocity of online sex advertising makes understanding its economy very difficult.

The second-largest advertising site in the world, the infamous Backpage, was accessed by users in all major metropolitan areas in more than 100 countries and mentioned in 73% of child trafficking reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Incredibly, between March and August 2017 alone more than 10,000 ads with 500,000 unique phone numbers were posted, many by pimps and sex traffickers.

The void left in its wake was quickly filled by a multitude of similar platforms, Campbell said, making it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to track victims and perpetrators.

With Campbell’s latest advancement in artificial intelligence technology, spurred on in the wake of the Backpage scandal, law enforcement agencies now have a new and stronger tool for stopping criminals. Both the criminals who would give child sex trafficking a platform like the soulless ghouls who ran the company and its equally shameful lapdog defenders and supporters like Tony Ortega.

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