Labour trafficking, sex trafficking, forced adoptions, forced marriages, child soldiering and domestic servitude - all forms of trafficking, but the statistics around this crime vary wildly. Sherrie Caltagirone, CEO and founder of Global Emancipation Network, illustrated this with the estimated number of victims globally. “At the moment, there are between 20 million and 45 million victims of human trafficking. That is more than 100% margin of error. These numbers are complete rubbish and we can't trust them.”
To compound the problem, there are many definitions of human trafficking and there are differences in the way that victims are counted with a lot of information coming from surveys and second-hand via victim interviews. Essentially, organisations involved in countering human trafficking in academia, law enforcement and government have been working in silos.
And so she decided to form Global Emancipation Network where organisations from those three areas can share and cross-reference their data. Global Emancipation Network does a minimal amount of processing before pushing the data into Splunk which powers Minerva, the new investigation technology platform.
"Users can store data and Minerva facilitates secure sharing."
“It is a multi-tenant secure system where our users are able to store and process their own data and can choose to share that with other organisations, but the data is their own, so they have full control over what happens to that. But it does facilitate secure sharing.”
She also said that Minerva has a custom user interface at the heart of it and draws information out of Splunk while also doing external enrichments on the metadata. Enrichments are things like patching through phone numbers that have been scraped from ads, or looking at public records to find out who is registered to a particular phone number or address. A lot of cryptocurrency analysis also takes place as many sex trafficking ads are bought using Bitcoin.
"We are streamlining the analytic process to connect the dots."
“We are trying to streamline the analytic process, put as many enrichments as possible and help give analysts a better understanding of the entire picture of the data, so we can connect the dots, find traffickers and victims at scale." Global Emancipation Network makes Minerva available free of charge to qualified organisations, though they must apply for access.
Caltagirone has worked in counter-human trafficking since she was in college, but was frustrated by the knowledge that tools that could help in the fight against this heinous trade - including data, analytics and image analysis - were not being used. Despite many well-intentioned and engaged cyber-threat intelligence specialists and traditional intelligence specialists, and analysts, law enforcement groups and other non-profits, working in the field Caltagirone could see they needed something to help them work in a better and more efficient way.
Someone such as a law enforcement officer from a human trafficking unit would scan craigslist or back pages for ads for sex trafficking, then go into another system to search for the phone numbers they had found, or ask their colleagues if they recognise a victim from an image, using around 10 different systems to do so. “It is highly manual, it requires a lot of personal relationship building in order to ask those questions and be able to get good feedback on the cases that you are working on and collaborate with others and it just takes too much time.”
"When the pieces are put together, magic happens."
She said that a lack of sharing seriously has hindered efforts to track down victims or pursue traffickers in the past but, “when we are able to put those pieces together, that’s when the magic happens.”
Minerva is transitioning out of beta mode and is due for general availability on 24th September. Despite this huge undertaking, Global Emancipation Network has just two full time members of staff and so is looking to hire, but there are 40 volunteers from the worlds of analytics and development with the goodwill to make a difference in this area.
Commercial organisations are getting on board, too. “The most transformative aspect of Minerva is it has been put in the hands of private sector organistions, like big banks, trains, airlines, hotel chains, homestay marketplaces, so all of those people who are at the front line of trafficking data.” As a result, despite being a small team, the numerous and diverse nature of the users as well as investment from the tech sector means there is a force multiplier effect to combat this crime which is estimated to generate annual profits of $150 billion.