WASHINGTON, April 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sex
traffickers are growing increasingly adept at using
sophisticated technological advances to exploit children,
especially tools to hide their identity and encrypt data,
according to a top FBI specialist.
Websites, chat rooms and virtual currency all are used by
traffickers to hunt for victims and sell them, said Kevin
Gutfleish, a specialist in violent crimes against children -
including sex trafficking - at the Federal Bureau of
"They are keeping up with technology and exploiting it for
their purposes, their illegal businesses," Gutfleish told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation. "They're not opposed to using what's
available to them."
Traffickers who once recruited victims in person now can use
websites, apps, chat rooms and online groups, he said.
"They cast a much wider net, and there are perhaps an
unlimited number of potential victims out there," said
Gutfleish, a speaker on Tuesday at Trust Conference/America
Forum, a one-day Thomson Reuters Foundation event on the fight
against slavery and trafficking.
Traffickers use online means to advertise, Global
Positioning Systems in cell phones to track their victims and
encrypted messages to communicate with accomplices, he said.
Tech giants Apple and Google have come under scrutiny after
changing their operating systems in 2014 to encrypt users' data
by default which boosted privacy online but made it harder for
law enforcement agencies to get information off smartphones.
Facebook-owned messaging system WhatsApp last year turned on
end-to-end encryption so only the person sending the message and
the person receiving the message can see what is sent.
This has pitted human rights advocates welcoming increased
online privacy against authorities voicing concerns that
encryption technologies can endanger the public by blocking
access to information between traffickers or other criminals.
A survey of more than 1,000 law enforcement officers
conducted for the Department of Justice last year found more
than a third said the technical sophistication and expertise of
sex traffickers had increased in the last five years, Gutfleish
In particular, they reported seeing an increase in the use
of tools and services that protect identities such as proxy
servers that can mask the source of communication.
"Sex traffickers are readily taking advantage of those
technologies that are available to them," he said.
"You have a lot to lose when you're exploiting children."
He said the FBI was keeping pace with the misuse of new
technology but also trying to benefit from this technology.
Gutfleish said the number of children being sex trafficked
in the United States was difficult to determine.
A concerted effort by several hundred federal, state and
local law enforcement agencies last fall turned up 82 sex
trafficking victims and 239 offenders in four days, he said.
"What we do know is that this is a very pervasive crime all
across the United States. If you look for it, you will find it,"
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith;
Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm
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rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and
resilience. Visit news.trust.org)