Tracking Modern Slavery On The Dark Web

Out of sight, beneath the surface of the public form of the Internet that you use to check email or read news articles, exists a concealed Dark Web

The Dark Web has about 2.5 million daily visitors. It’s a perfect sanctuary for criminal organisations and terror groups to communicate, advertise, or buy or sell anything, including human beings.  

Over 50% of the Dark Web or Dark Net’s activities is in stolen goods, illicit drugs and slavery. Law enforcement agencies work continuously to stop these activities, but the challenges they face in investigating and prosecuting the real-world people behind the users who post on these sites cannot be underestimated.

The problem is that the amount of data that they need to manually shuffle through, 500,000 phone numbers and 2 million sex ads posted a month, is too large and unstructured for them to find connections quickly. Thus, only a low percentage of cases can be pursued.

The most rampant form of trafficking on the Dark Web is child trafficking and in the United States two out of every three children sold for sex are trafficked online. 

In 2011, Europol, in coordination with 13 different countries, arrested 184 people suspected of child abuse and the spread of child pornography in the form of images. A similar operation was carried out in the United Kingdom and 650 people accused of different forms of child abuse, from the possession of child pornography images to pandering, were arrested. A study by the UK organisation Stop the Traffik found that many of the "pastes" (paste sites are sites accessible on the Internet and are used for sharing information like email, name, etc) that advertise the sale of people are posted almost daily. 

Benjamin Faulkner, a Canadian, was the owner of “Child's Play,”, a dark-net child pornography website that at its peak had over 1 million profiles. The website showcased over 100 producers of pornography who raped and brutalised children and shot videos of their sadism for the delight of paedophiles around the world. After a six month investigation, the United States Department of Homeland Security captured Faulkner in  October 2016. At the time of his arrest, Faulkner carried on his electronic devices a child porn collection of 47,000 images and 2,900 videos. 

The nature of the Dark Web makes it very difficult to track down these people despite the best efforts Interpol, the US Justice Department and Homeland Security. The big technology companies are also working on tools using artificial intelligence and machine learning to spot illicit trafficking rings online. 

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on a multi-year project called the Memex Program since 2014 to help identify human trafficking on the Internet. 

The purpose of the Memex program is to identify content on the surface and Dark Web to target informations indicative of human trafficking and DARPA is building the capacity to do this using advanced web crawler technology. Web crawler technology consists of a computer program that automatically and systematically searches web pages for certain words or content.

Much more work needs to be done to combat the problem of human trafficking, especially when it comes to online illicit trading of people, but with the involvement of more tech companies and wider public participation, law enforcement has increasingly powerful tools to meet the challenge. 

DARPA:     Verdict:       MIT:      Deccan Chronicle:       MEAAW:      WEF:    Europol:     Image: Unsplash

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