‘Clever’ use of technologies can disrupt modern slavery

Clever deployment of technology could have a “major impact” in disrupting modern slavery.

Jul 19, 2017
By Paul Jacques

Clever deployment of technology could have a “major impact” in disrupting modern slavery.

Craig Melson, programme manager across digital devices, consumer electronics and environment and compliance at industry representative body techUK, says that “with a renewed focus there is an opportunity for government and law enforcement to see how and where technology can make a difference” in tackling the crime.

“Today 45 million people are being forced to work against their will, with 13,000 victims in the UK alone,” said Mr Melson. “It is a varied and complex crime with causes linked to conflict, globalisation, climate change and migration, and takes many forms.”

Speaking as part of techUK’s recent Security and Law Enforcement Campaign Week, he said tackling modern slavery was a “personal priority for the Prime Minister” and the UK has spearheaded an increased focus on this crime.

“The Modern Slavery Act requires companies turning over £36 million or more to lay out their policies for eradicating modern slavery in their supply chains and has created harsh new penalties for those convicted of engaging in slavery, including life sentences for the most serious offences,” added Mr Melson.

The National Referral Mechanism coordinates how Government agencies, community groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) protect and support victims, with dedicated IT resources that pull together data from the IT infrastructure of Border Force, local police, social services and more, he explained.

“As well as operational IT, the National Crime Agency keeps records of the prevalence, country of origin and other victim and offender data to understand where and who the vulnerable communities are. This is invaluable, but aside from becoming more data driven, there are specific technological solutions available now (or approaching readiness) that can be used to tackle modern slavery at different points”, said Mr Melson.

For the police, he said new cyber-surveillance technologies could make establishing networks of offenders easier, while drones would make aerial surveillance cheaper and less overt.

“This helps gather evidence that can disrupt organised crime gangs and bring offenders to justice,” he added.

Mr Melson said other areas where technology could make a difference include:

Blockchain – modern slavery relies on complex supply chains and blockchain increases transparency by helping companies and their stakeholders understand the origin of goods/raw materials, as well as the companies, brokers, middlemen and sub-contractors involved in globalised supply chains;

Analytics and big data – being able to share data and link up information held by different agencies helps investigators see migration patterns, identify actionable leads and understand trafficking routes;

Artificial intelligence (AI) – using a layer of AI can discover suspicious behaviour humans may miss. For example, AI could be applied to banking records to recognise and flag suspicious activity (for example if multiple cards in one name are block booking hotels and numerous flights where the price suggests one-way);

Border technology – such as smart CCTV, biometrics and facial recognition makes it easier to trace offenders and potential victims. This information can be easily dissipated to police officers on the ground;

Smartphones and apps – using smartphones and off-the-shelf apps can assist with translation, provide instant communication between international prosecutors and provide low cost access to data on the ground; and

Case management software – employing customer relationship management-style databases in origin and transit countries can act as a repository for victims and log the modus operandi of offenders, and are especially powerful if they can be shared with other NGOs and official agencies.

“A clever deployment of the above technologies, combined with capabilities already in place could have a major impact in disrupting offenders, supporting victims and ultimately show how technology can solve a major socie

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