The application of big data analytics to address human security and human rights issues is gaining traction. Collecting and analyzing data from various digital sources offers promising methods for monitoring or intervening in instances of abuse, exploitation, or victimization. The application of data-driven techniques to combat human trafficking has received much attention in recent years. Human trafficking is an international crime that occurs when an individual is forced or coerced into sex or labor exploitation for commercial gain, which amounts to a gross violation of human rights. Trafficking behaviors are now more visible across digital networked environments providing an unprecedented opportunity to observe potential signals and indicators of hitherto hidden social practices. The highest levels of government, policy, and law enforcement are supporting initiatives that leverage technology to monitor and identify human trafficking victims and perpetrators. In addition, private sector data and internet companies are involved in similar efforts. However, a number of challenges, tensions, and anxieties have emerged around surveillance, privacy, data sharing, risk, and biases in data sets. Addressing these issues are crucial as data-driven techniques become the basis for decision making and intervention at the policy and operational levels. This presentation will use the specific case of human trafficking to discuss the social, ethical, political, and methodological concerns that arise when big data analytics are applied to general human rights domains.
Mark Latonero is a fellow at Data & Society, a new research institute based in New York City focused on the social, policy, and ethical issues arising from data-centric technologies. Mark is also the research director at the Annenberg School’s Center on Communication Leadership & Policy and a research professor at the University of Southern California. He has published in journals such as the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Information Communication & Society, and Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management. Mark received his PhD from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and was a postdoctoral research scholar at the London School of Economics.