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  • Writer's pictureSherrie Caltagirone

These Noble Nerds Fight Human Trafficking with Data, Blockchain Analytics

2 Oct 2017 – by R. Danes of SiliconAngle (Source) – See Video Interview

Law enforcement agencies across the globe concur that human trafficking — the capture, transfer, receipt or harboring of humans for various exploitative purposes — is widespread. Available statistics are wildly inconsistent, however; the International Labor Organization has estimated the global number of victims to be 20.9 million, while the Minderoo Foundation Pty Ltd’s Global Slavery Index puts the number at 45.8 million. Can big data and blockchain analytics bring greater clarity to the problem and help police catch perpetrators?

“There’s no reliable, repeatable way to count trafficking, so right now it’s mostly anecdotal,” said Sherrie Caltagirone(pictured), founder and executive director of the Global Emancipation Network. The non-governmental organization (or NGO) proactively combats human trafficking in 22 countries and 77 cities around the world. Government agencies, NGOs, law enforcement and academia typically do not work together to reach accurate numbers on trafficking, according to Caltagirone.

“Everyone silos their individual parts of the data,” she said.

Global Emancipation Network benefits from the Splunk4Good project — Splunk Inc.’s pledge to donate $100 million over a 10-year period in software, support and education to organizations working for positive social impact. The hope is that Splunk’s big data technology — typically used by enterprises to increase profits — will help Global Emancipation Network measure and fight trafficking crimes.

“With a data-led approach, hopefully we’ll get closer to a real, accurate number,” Caltagirone said.

She spoke with John Walls (@JohnWalls21) and Dave Vellante (@dvellante), co-hosts of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile livestreaming studio, during the Splunk .conf2017 event in Washington D.C.

This week, theCUBE spotlights Sherrie Caltagirone in our Women in Tech feature.

Trafficking generates $150 billion in profits every year for the criminals who engage in it, according to ILO’s estimate. “After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second-largest criminal industry in the world and is the fastest growing,” said Barry Koch, former assistant district attorney in New York County, in a Forbes article.

Traffickers disproportionately target the underprivileged. “People become very vulnerable if they don’t have a solid source of income or employment,” Caltagirone said. Traffickers use all kinds of gimmicks, such as fake employment ads, to entrap victims. They may then force them into prostitution or other exploitative labor.

Some percentage of the migrants currently flooding Europe from the Middle East and Africa are in fact victims of traffickers, Caltagirone stated. The criminals smuggle the victims across continents with the promise of refugee status and a better life in the West.

Hiding in plain site

While some may assume that the deep web is where all of the criminals hang out online, everyday sites on the open internet are actually rife with traffickers. Classified ads site is implicated in 73 percent of all child trafficking reports in the U.S., according to a Senate investigation. “There’s hundreds of websites like that,” Caltagirone said.

Traffickers are also finding and conning victims through social media sites like Facebook, WhatsApp and Kik Messenger, the anonymous chat site popular with sexual offenders.

Global Emancipation Network is going directly to these online trafficking hotbeds to catch criminals. “We extract all the data from the website that we can to pull out names, email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, things like that, and then begin to make correlations,” Caltagirone said.

Unlike many organization fighting trafficking, the Global Emancipation Network’s staff is quite tech savvy, according to Caltagirone. Many people she works with, including her husband, come from the cyber threat intelligence field. “They’ve learned that they can apply the exact same methods and techniques into our field,” she said. “It’s brilliant to see the ways in which they do that.”

Supposedly anonymous blockchain transactions may actually provide analysts and investigators with clues. “It’s not as anonymous as people think it is,” Caltagirone said. On, all of the ads are purchased with bitcoin, so cyber investigators have begun “trying to time the post to when the bitcoin was purchased and when the transactions happened,” she said. There are now companies specializing in this, such as Chainalysis, which Global Emancipation Network partners with.

“It’s really successful,” Caltagirone said.

Raising tech IQ

Global Emancipation Network works with attorneys general and law enforcement to improve their understanding of trafficking data. “Data’s useless unless we do something with it, so we build out these target packages in intelligence and give it to people who can do something with it,” Caltagirone said.

Improved access to accurate data may help these organizations reach more consistent conclusions. “They are running differentiated traffic operations all the time, and the jurisdictions, they overlap in many cases, especially when you’re talking about moving people, and they’re going from one state to another state,” she explained. “So you’ll have several jurisdictions, and you need to de-conflict your programs.”

Global Emancipation Network is reaching out and collaborating with other organizations that fight trafficking to raise their tech IQs. “These are, for the most part, not technically savvy people. And this is one of the good things about our nonprofit. … it is a staff of people that are very tech savvy, and we’re very patient in explaining it and making it easy and usable and consumable.”

Caltagirone’s career in anti-trafficking work began with an internship in college. “I really wanted to get closer and begin to measure my impact, so that’s why I started thinking about data,” she said. has sparked a national debate over internet freedom and crime, which is bringing increased media attention to trafficking. “I would love to see the media start to ask questions, drill down into the data to be able to ask and answer those real questions,” Caltagirone said. “We’re hoping that Global Emancipation Network will do that for the media and for policymakers around the world.”

Global Emancipation Network is always looking for individuals to donate time and skills to fight trafficking. It is currently working to meet fundraising goals and is looking to hire a full-time developer and an intelligence analyst. For more information, visit


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