Right now, in metropolitan areas across the county, law enforcement agencies are deploying simple-to-use technology to gather live information on human traffickers and on those who buy sex from trafficking victims. In a recent operation, a vice detective went from a software training in the morning, to placing a decoy chatbot ad at lunch, to placing a violent trafficker of children in custody before dinner. Simultaneously, social service providers are connecting with thousands of potential trafficking victims through cloud-based text messaging platforms. The future of anti-human trafficking is here.
Stories coming out of the multi-county anti-trafficking operations in Florida give us a snapshot of the scale and severity of what victims are experiencing, and the scale of the crime can seem overwhelming. But when I consider the technology tools that are available to law enforcement to fight human trafficking today, I am in awe of the unprecedented progress we've made in just a few short years. In Washington State, I've had a front row seat as several technology innovations developed by Seattle Against Slavery (SAS) and their team of Microsoft volunteers have helped provide needed data, spur arrests, and give victims pathways to escape their exploitation. More recently, I've seen these innovations come together into a holistic supply-and-demand disruption package called Freedom Signal (www.FreedomSignal.org).
Eight years ago, as Washington State Attorney General and president of the National Association of Attorney Generals (NAAG), my colleagues and I launched a program called "Pillars of Hope" aimed at disrupting human trafficking across the country. Human trafficking became a critical focus of NAAG training and coordination and is still an area of importance today. During the initial Pillars of Hope conference, we explored how modern traffickers followed the trends of other commercial enterprises, using the internet and mobile technology to facilitate the victimization of minors and adults. Data was scarce, but story after story emerged of survivors and their families who had witnessed the exploitation of trafficking victims, sometimes for years, as they were sold to countless buyers through online classified ads.
Seven years ago, my office fought Backpage.com in court on behalf of victims in states like mine, and online advertisements for sex with a potential trafficking victim were found to be protected under Section 230 of the federal...