Microsoft, district attorney group launch campaign to combat human trafficking

Microsoft, district attorney group launch campaign to combat human trafficking
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Microsoft Corp. and the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) this week launched a campaign against human trafficking that focuses on data collection and creating a new victims database.

“What we’re seeing over the last number of years, it used to be people who preyed in human trafficking were the ones hanging around the street corners trying to recruit victims. Now it's done by computer, thousands of miles and countries away,” Jonathan Blodgett, NDAA board chairman, told The Hill. “As technology develops at such a rapid pace, it's often hard for law enforcement to get in front of it.”

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Nearly 11,000 human trafficking cases were reported in the U.S. last year, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Of those, 490 were through online contact or an unknown venue, though illicit massage and spa businesses are the most common venues.

The vast majority of the cases — more than 7,000 — involved women as victims.

The new collaboration between the NDAA and Microsoft will involve the tech giant providing digital support and best practices, in addition to creating a database of victims.

“Despite everybody’s best efforts, the law takes a little bit of time to catch up with the evolving and rapid pace of technology,” Blodgett said.

He added that prosecutors are focused on protecting victims' privacy, while also having a database to identify a victim even if the person’s location, name and look has changed.

“Our own research shows that everyone — government, law enforcement, technology companies, educators, parents, and young people themselves — has a role to play in helping to keep individuals and families safe online,” Jacqueline Beauchere, Microsoft’s global digital safety advocate, said in a statement. “Microsoft is pleased to collaborate with NDAA to highlight our extensive set of tools and resources for encouraging safer and more respectful online interactions among people in all communities.”

The NDAA said it also sees the collaboration as a way to prosecute more people who are profiting from trafficking.

“We are extremely hopeful they can do more and do a better job protecting all the people that we serve,” Blodgett said.

The House this year passed legislation known as the Put Trafficking Victims First Act, which would direct the attorney general to study issues relating to human trafficking. The Senate has not voted on the measure.