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Combatting human trafficking with cyber technology

By Katie Weiss

Felicity Gerry QC: “We are not suggesting blanket surveillance on victims” Felicity Gerry QC: “We are not suggesting blanket surveillance on victims”

Modern technologies could be used more extensively to combat human trafficking around the world, but that care would need to be taken so victims’ right to privacy was not infringed in the process, a human rights law expert has warned.

Charles Darwin University law lecturer Felicity Gerry QC raised the issue at the recent International Computers, Privacy and Data Protection Conference in Brussels.

“Technological surveillance of victims could be used as a form of crime prevention or an investigative tool to benefit the victim,” Ms Gerry said.

“But we must do that with the victims’ safety and right to privacy in mind.”

She said a range of current technologies could be used to protect or rescue human trafficking victims, but it was important to debate how such mechanisms could be managed effectively.

Ms Gerry said human traffickers often used location tracking devices on their victims’ smartphones as a form of control and that authorities could use the same technology against the abusers. 

“We are not suggesting blanket surveillance on victims,” she said.

“The aim would be to empower victims in the knowledge that their rights to life and liberty will be properly balanced as against their rights to privacy.”

Ms Gerry suggested relevant training and legal and ethical processes be introduced for those who might be handling victims’ sensitive information.

“This discussion needs to include victim safety plans and state processes need to be subject to effective scrutiny,” she said.

“Rather than becoming enslaved by technology, we can and should use technology to set people free.”