Human TraffickingNews

DHS: Combatting Human Trafficking with Analytics

There are currently an estimated 24.9 million victims (PDF; 16.41MB; 538 Pgs.)of human trafficking worldwide, contributing to a horrifyingly profitable illegal industry that reaches well into the billions of dollars. Human trafficking touches all communities regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity—though immigrants, women, and children are disproportionately targeted. Victims often stay silent out of fear, so the true scale of this scourge is difficult to know. Human trafficking is a complex issue, making combatting it especially challenging, but no less vital. 

The Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute (HSSEDI™), which is managed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and operated by MITRE, has produced a dashboard that uses data analytics to identify trends and displays visualizations of nearby illicit activities that could indicate human trafficking. This capability has already led to the rescue of multiple victims here in the United States—as recent as last month, in fact, during Super Bowl weekend in Miami. These are real people suffering a bleak existence of being bought and sold. 

“Aiding local, state, and federal law enforcement in this incredible victory for justice and human rights shows collaboration at its finest,” said William Bryan, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology. “Our commitment to helping the women and men at the forefront of combatting human trafficking remains steadfast.”

The Hermes Research project, named for the Greek god of trade and commerce, flags and displays suspected human trafficking activity for law enforcement and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Hermes capabilities supported law enforcement efforts not only at Super Bowl LIV in Miami, but also at the Pro Bowl in Orlando in January. Sadly, large sporting events are known hubs for human trafficking activities. The technology was used to display data, categorize activities (relative to “illicit” levels), and visualize multiple data sets, providing actionable intelligence in support of NGO outreach and recovery activities.

“HSSEDI, through continued S&T support, will keep providing law enforcement and NGOs with innovative analytic and visualization tools that enhance human trafficking investigations through improved situational awareness capabilities,” said Scott Randels, Director of S&T’s Federally Funded Research and Development Centers

HSSEDI works closely with S&T, providing independent analysis of homeland security issues and deep technical expertise. HSSEDI tests new technologies, develops prototypes, establishes technical standards, and creates realistic test environments. 

S&T has been tasked with the development and implementation of technologies to support the first-ever DHS Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking, the Importation of Goods Produced with Forced Labor, and Child Sexual Exploitation. Two years in the making and authored in part by S&T, this document articulates a five-part plan to prevent exploitative crimes, protect victims, investigate and prosecute perpetrators, partner with the homeland security enterprise, and enable effectiveness measures in addressing threats.

S&T has brought multiple other innovations to the frontlines of this fight, helping identify victims and bring perpetrators to justice. The Port of Entry Forensics and Investigations program helps combat transnational crime and investigate child exploitation and human trafficking through open-source data and forensic analysis of material collected from suspicious packages and cargo. Igloo, a data analytics software program, allows law enforcement officers to scour multiple data sources and then track, triangulate, and swiftly translate the telltale signs of criminal activity into actionable intelligence. 

Rapid DNA technology supports efforts in immigration, human trafficking prevention, reunification of family members following mass casualties, and DHS law enforcement investigations through speedy and accurate genetic testing. And, the Child Exploitation Image Analytics project designs, develops, tests, and integrates new face detection and recognition algorithms to automate forensic analysts’ tasks of reviewing seized material and identifying victims.