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  • Writer's pictureSherrie Caltagirone

theCube Interview with Sherrie Caltagirone

26 September 2017 Washington, interviewed Global Emancipation Network Executive Director Sherrie Caltagirone in theCube at Splunk .conf 2017.  Learn More

[arve url=”” align=”center” title=”Sherrie Caltagirone, Global Emancipation Network” description=”Sherrie Caltagirone discussing Splunk and Countering Human Trafficking at the Global Emancipation Network” /]

How big is the problem?

The trafficking numbers aren’t even numbers we can fathom.  20 million, 40 million, nobody knows what that means.  It’s really difficult to figure out the truth.  There is no reliable, repeatable method of counting trafficking.  It’s really just an estimate and it’s the best that we have right now.  With a data-led approach, we can hopefully get to an accurate number.

How do people become enslaved?

For example, the refugee crisis across Europe and the Middle East is a major player and a situation completely ripe for [human trafficking].  People who are refugees willing to be smuggled out of the country are at the mercy of their smugglers and it’s very easy for them to become trafficked.  Things like poverty and other marginalized populations like LGBTQ and homeless populations create situations for individuals to be exploited.

What forms does trafficking take?

It’s modern-day slavery, there are lots of different forms.  There is labor trafficking – such as working in a brick factory or forced onto a fishing boat for years.  Usually, they take away your passport if you’re from another country or threaten your family to keep you enslaved.  It’s slavery on a big scale.

How does data help solve the problem?

One of the benefits we have as an organization countering human trafficking is that we’re turning the tables on the traffickers.  They are using the internet much like private enterprises – they know that’s how they move their product, which sadly is human beings  They advertise for victims online and recruit victims online.  They use social media and apps like Facebook, Kik, WhatsApp.  Then they turn around and advertise openly selling their victims’ services through Backpage and the hundreds of other similar sites.  So, we’re constantly looking for those sites and data sources through automated and human intelligence.  We then look for patterns – who are the victims, who are the traffickers, what can we do about it?  The data is really what will inform policy and have effect real change.

Has Cryptocurrency Made Fighting Trafficking Harder?

No.  It hasn’t.  There has been a lot of research into blockchain analysis.  For instance, on Backpage ads are purchased with bitcoin and we can correlate new ads with deductions from wallets basically de-anonymizing.  For instance, we partner with Chainalysis.  It’s not as anonymous as people think.

How Much Are You Looking Internationally vs Domestically?

We collect from 22 countries, 77 individual cities.  Most of the sites are jurisdictionally specific – like Craigslist.  We harvest from the main world’s primary trafficking points.  We collect in 6 different languages.  The majority of our data is from the US only because it’s easy but our collection spans the globe.

What do you do with the data?

We love to exploit data.  For instance, linking bitcoin wallets to other online activity.  Linking a user handle to their Facebook or Flickr account.  We’re like reverse hackers because most of our volunteers have decades of experience hunting hackers and know the methods of detecting people trying to hide and then uncovering their operations.

Partner Ecosystem

We partner with attorneys general and law enforcement where we deliver intelligence packages on traffickers.  We partner with other non-profits.  We also can’t forget our tech partners and the amazing volunteers who help make the technology accessible to our customers.  We love to see the lightbulbs go off between the non-profit and the tech sector where we can help lead more non-profits to use data to improve their mission.

Fundraising Goals?

We want to raise funds to hire a full-time software engineer and an intelligence analyst.  You can donate to Global Emancipation Network here.  We’re also looking for people who can donate their time and skills.  We receive a lot of product donations from the technology sector and so we’re lucky we don’t need to spend money there.  But, we do need to hire two people.

What Was Your Founding Story?

It was a happy circumstance.  I’ve always done counter human trafficking starting at the Protection Project at Johns Hopkins University where I worked as a legislative analyst traveling the world helping countries draft legislation on human trafficking.  But, I wanted to get closer and start measuring my impact and where I started thinking about data.  Getting to data to measure our impact.  Then I started volunteering for a rescue operations organization where I liked having the closer impact and I felt like I could do something to have real impact.  The ideas around me about using data started percolating and the idea just formed.

Is the Media Coverage on Human Trafficking Adequate?

It’s really good that it’s coming to the forefront.  Five years when I told people there are still people enslaved and it didn’t end with the US civil war, they would stare at me slack-jawed.  Now, with films on the topic many have seen Taken with Liam Neeson which most people get their image of trafficking which illustrates one type of trafficking.  But, others like Aston Kutcher and his organization, Thorn,  that’s really fantastic.  He has been able to raise the spotlight.  There is currently a large debate in the US about section 230 of the Communications Decency Act centered around Backpage.  Where do we draw the line between freedom of speech but also catch the bad guys.  I would love to see the media ask hard questions and drill down into data.  We hope that the Global Emancipation Network will provide that view to the media and the policymakers around the world.


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