There’s no shortage of individuals—even entire companies— that are motivated to make a positive impact on the world. Many dedicate their careers to understanding and combatting the constantly evolving criminal threats to the global financial system and the related real-world costs.
For instance, human trafficking, just one predicate offense of money laundering, affects an estimated 24.9 million victims worldwide at any given time.
To mark the theme of this year’s UNODC World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, “The Use and Abuse of Technology,” I sat down with Aaron Kahler, Founder and CEO of Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative, to learn more about their work and how they use technology to make a difference.
What is the Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative?
SL: First, can you tell us briefly what ATII does?
AK: ATII is a nonprofit dedicated to combating global human trafficking and child exploitation by disrupting operations, economics, and anonymity of modern slavery at the source.
We partner with financial institutions and corporations, and collaborate with law enforcement to achieve this goal.
By taking a holistic approach, we offer a suite of big data-focused solutions and support for both commercial organizations and law enforcement agencies.
SL: Tell me more about the clients you serve and how they leverage your capabilities?
AK: ATII supports the corporations we work with to implement anti-human trafficking programs, encouraging management to introduce policies, procedures, and training for all staff on the facts of human trafficking, how to avoid it and how to detect it.
Employees at these companies need to know how to respond if they spot a trafficking situation. Everyone plays a role. Misinformation can cause more harm than good. We need to educate our teams on the realities we’re facing today.
“Everyone plays a role. Misinformation can cause more harm than good. We need to educate our teams on the realities we’re facing today.” - Aaron Kahler, Founder and CEO of Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative
In the private sector, we work with a variety of organizations and stakeholders who are concerned with the risk of their company being used to facilitate financial crimes and related predicate offenses like human trafficking or child exploitation and truly want to make their corporation a safer and more informed place.
Our alignment with financial institutions and the commercial/tech industry (i.e. retail, hospitality, social media) is usually based on our subject matter expertise in tech, data and investigations. The relationship typically stems from either the regulatory compliance, financial crime, legal, risk management, cybersecurity, or trust and safety departments.
We also align with corporations through our Environmental Social Governance (ESG) & Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) capabilities, which take place at the most senior levels within organizations, as engagement is related to their corporate culture and public image.
The use and abuse of technology in human trafficking
SL: The theme for UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) World Day against Trafficking in Persons this year is “the use and abuse of technology” - can you speak to how criminals are abusing technology? What are the biggest challenges in combatting this abuse?
AK: Let me clarify something about criminal activity and FinCrime: we must separate intelligence from law enforcement (LE) activities—they are not and cannot be the same. The two crime-fighting activities occur in different stages of the timeline and face very different challenges.
For intelligence, the question is not where an IP (Internet Protocol address) is geolocated in relation to a specific user but, rather, how deeply integrated is this IP with other criminal activities.
For example, the registry of a cryptocurrency transaction performed between a child sexual abuse material (CSAM) criminal located in the U.S. and another criminal in Australia might happen in the public section of a French CSAM website—making this data subject to French jurisdiction.
The lack of a central database for intelligence sharing on CSAM is still one of the biggest challenges for LE authorities working in the field—and that includes a challenge pervading cryptocurrency information. Additionally, CSAM researchers have for a long time worked with poor data due to the lack of proper tools. Our dark web intel platform gives users the opportunity to apply filters in more useful ways to achieve better results, in recognition of these data-related challenges.
How is technology used to combat human trafficking?
SL: How does your technology approach the problem of de-centralized and/or disparate data sets?
AK: Our dark web intel tool aims to collect intelligence on criminal behavior to disrupt human trafficking and child exploitation operations.
The platform offers a suite of solutions and support for both commercial and LE organizations, using big data technology and vast data resources channeled through forensic linking, investigative intelligence and analytics.
Within the intel platform, we collect evidence from the dark web to track and de-anonymize people – so far it has collected over 100,000 bitcoin addresses and discovers at least 1,000 new dark websites every week or two, so there is always an abundance of data.
It also integrates with 10 different blockchain forensics, analytics and abuse databases at the click of a button, including image hashing and exit data collection, which allows further link analysis.
SL: Can you share any specific stories of successful investigations ATII has enabled?
AK: We collaborated with former law enforcement officials to conduct an Open Source Intelligence study on OnlyFans.com, a subscription-based adult content platform, hosted by Amazon Web Services. Sex crimes actively take place on the site, including the sexual exploitation of minors and adults.
Our analysis confirmed “red flags” highly indicative of sex crimes (including CSAM and sex trafficking) routinely occurring on OnlyFans.com. We shared our view with law enforcement, including Homeland Security's Child Exploitation Investigations Unit and various subject matter expert researchers. Based on their experience and training, these groups all agreed that our methodology and analysis was sound.
To determine the extent of possible criminal activity on OnlyFans.com, ATII investigators scraped, linked, and classified data from websites uncovered by our team as well as those known to law enforcement to feature content indicative of sex trafficking and their links to the OnlyFans.com platform. The findings highlighted key words and terms known to law enforcement to be associated with CSAM and sex trafficking to the platform. These findings showed that OnlyFans.com is actively used by sex traffickers and other criminals to monetize large-scale, in-person criminal sexual encounters.
SL: In what other ways is technology helping the global fight against trafficking? Are there others in the space who are leveraging technology well?
AK: There are so many great ways technology is being used to fight trafficking and hundreds of amazing organizations use creative technology to make an impact.
We work with several amazing organizations that have become strategic partners through supporting our initiatives in different disciplines (i.e., data analytics, cybersecurity, digital forensics, geo-location data, OSINT, blockchain forensics and others). Some of our fantastic partners that support us through their tools, data and services include; Siren, CipherTrace, Constella Intelligence, ADF Solutions, NominoData, Traffik Analysis HUB, and Manchester CF.
The future for anti-human trafficking
SL: Can you offer a few words of hope for the year ahead?
AK: The future is looking more hopeful - in the three years since we started, there has been much growth in the anti-human trafficking field extending from general awareness, survivor support, new laws and standards to protect the vulnerable and prosecute predators, as well as targeted rescue operations.
The general shift in global interest has created a push to gather meaningful data on trafficking worldwide as well as many well-funded programs, grants and Government initiatives focused on solving the many problems around trafficking.
SL: So, what’s next for ATII and others you work with?
AK: We had a successful last few years and have drastically expanded our footprint on industries served, partnerships, events, content, and solutions serving both the private and public sectors. There is much on the horizon for ATII as we embark on the second half of 2022 and prepare for 2023.
Our three Consortiums - Anti-Human Trafficking Cryptocurrency, Anti-Human Trafficking Retail, and Anti-Human Trafficking Survivor - are growing rapidly while working on several projects to address these issues.
We are also extremely excited to have our 3rd Annual Follow Money Fight Slavery Summit, 2nd Annual Darkwebathon (along with several mini Darkwebathons), our 1st Annual High Risk Human Trafficking Tech for Good Rally and more conference and webinars events for the public.
We have always felt collaboration and information sharing is imperative in the fight against modern slavery and we prioritize aligning with our partners, sponsors, law enforcement, cross industries and other NGOs to lead by example.
“We have always felt collaboration & information sharing is imperative to meaningful evolution in the fight against modern slavery” - Aaron Kahler, Founder and CEO of Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative
To learn more about ATII, including way you can get involved in their mission, visit followmoneyfightslavery.org
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Photo by Gursimrat Ganda on Unsplash