Tag Archive | "data"

Internet graphic

Critical Analysis: Determining the Boundaries of the Internet

Cloud Computing and Internet Surveillance

Since the rise of the internet, lawmakers and courts have struggled to create legal rules for a computer network that disregards geographical boundaries. Issues concerning internet governance have only grown more complex with the recent trend towards cloud computing and revelations of internet surveillance by government agencies. U.S. companies host massive amounts of data from customers around the world, with much of that information being stored overseas. These same U.S. companies have come under fire for giving U.S. government agencies access to customer data. Many countries responded to these revelations by enacting legislation designed to protect the privacy of their citizens’ data. Now we are left with a segmented, country-by-country approach, to govern an internet that has no borders. The lack of a unified international framework for data protection has made it impossible for global internet companies to comply with all of the contradicting demands of their various stakeholders.

global network graphic

Image Source: wonderfulengineering.com

Microsoft Refuses to Give Foreign Hosted Data to U.S. Authorities

A court decision determining the circumstances under which U.S. law enforcement agencies may obtain digital information stored outside the U.S. has become the most recent example of the difficulty in reconciling the notion of sovereignty with a globally distributed network. During the summer of 2014, a United States court ordered Microsoft to produce the content of email-data stored on servers in Dublin, Ireland. Microsoft complied with the warrant to the extent of producing the metadata of the email stored on U.S. servers but has refused to turn over the foreign hosted content. Microsoft claims that U.S. courts do not have the power to issue warrants for extraterritorial search and seizure. In the courts view, extraterritoriality does not apply to warrants issued pursuant to the Stored Communications Act (SCA) because the information is within the control of Microsoft.

Stored Communications Act (SCA)

Part of the purpose of the SCA was to address the difficulty in applying Fourth Amendment protections to information communicated and stored electronically. The court argues that a section 2703(a) SCA warrant operates like a hybrid between a subpoena and a warrant. With a subpoena the test for compulsory production of information is whether or not the information is in the possession, custody, or control of the subpoena recipient. Extraterritoriality does not apply because, like a subpoena, an SCA warrant does not involve government agents entering the premises of the ISP to search its servers and seize information. One of the problems in allowing the SCA warrant hybrid to defy jurisdictional boundaries is that it creates a situation where Microsoft cannot comply with both the order and the laws of the host country simultaneously.

The Business of International Internet Companies

Microsoft, with the support of several other tech giants (including AT&T, Apple, Cisco, and Verizon among others), is claiming that this court order could set a precedent that might encourage Europeans to avoid using Microsoft products out of a fear that expansive U.S. discovery rules could expose all of their information. To maintain its European customers and avoid possible liability abroad, Microsoft has a very strong incentive to push back against this order. Microsoft has argued that if it complied with this order, it could decimate the U.S. cloud computing industry – which would cost both jobs and massive tax revenue. To protect its growing business in countries outside the U.S. Microsoft is urging the U.S. government to abide with its mutual legal assistance treaties, or MLATs. This approach would allow for more cooperation between the requesting and host countries, ensuring that the local laws of the host country are not disregarded in the process of acquiring the requested information.

Internet graphic

Image Source: techpolicydaily.com

The Cloud Computing Industry Fights Back

While this case has played out in the court systems members of the United States Congress have been working to find an appropriate solution to the issues presented by U.S. based companies hosting data abroad. On September 18, 2014 a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act, or LEADS Act. The LEADS Act would implement the warrant-for-content rule, meaning that the account of a U.S. citizen held overseas would only be accessible to law enforcement with a judicial warrant. The goal of the bill is to balance the needs of U.S. law enforcement with consumer privacy rights. Microsoft is supportive of the new bill as a way to continue the conversation over the control of data, but was adamant that it would not be the conversation’s conclusion.

Matthew Aeschbacher is a 4LE law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.


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bush signs Sarbanes oxley

One Size Won’t Fit All: Multinational Corporations’ Compliance with Privacy Regulations (Part 1 of 3)

Part 1: What Does “Privacy” Mean?

This is the first post in a three part series examining the issues multinational corporations face in complying with privacy regulations in the U.S. and abroad. This post will explore privacy generally by analyzing privacy as the concept is understood and applied in the European Union, in China, and in the United States. The second post will review two case studies to introduce specific issues multinational corporations have run into in attempting to comply with the three privacy regimes described in the first post. The third post will provide recommendations on privacy strategies companies can implement to mitigate some of the issues identified in the second post. These posts do not attempt to provide an exhaustive list of privacy issues multinational corporations encounter, but they are intended to show the importance of privacy concerns and to highlight the need to confront compliance issues in a proactive manner.



Privacy is a value so complex, so entangled in competing and contradictory dimensions, so engorged with various and distinct meanings, that I sometimes despair whether it can be usefully addressed at all.” – Robert C. Prost

The amount of personal data that is available via the internet is astounding, and that data is valuable. Stores are eager to employ “predictive analytics” in order to understand “not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them.” The more information a store can obtain about an individual, the easier it is to send them individualized advertisements geared specifically to that person’s needs. For instance, it is now possible, based off consumer purchasing habits, to track an individual’s pattern of purchases and predict when that individual is experiencing a major life change. Once an individual’s purchasing patterns change, the company can respond with targeted advertising to the changed circumstances. Another example is how GPS information in your car has the potential to be shared with businesses to provide targeted advertisements for nearby restaurants.


Louis Brandeis, circa 1890, was one of the first scholars to attempt to define the principle of privacy

Although businesses are eager to use information on consumer habits, many people view this kind of information gathering and dissemination as an invasion of privacy. Unsurprisingly, legislators in the U.S. have sought to introduce laws curtailing the ability to collect consumer information without the consumer’s permission. But laws aimed at protecting consumer information must first answer a fundamental question: what exactly is “privacy”? Although it is beyond the scope of these posts to provide an exhaustive list of the ways in which scholars have defined “privacy,” it is important to understand the context in which debates over privacy occur in order to better understand the conflicts multinational corporations face in complying with differing privacy regimes.

Definitions of “Privacy”

One of the earliest and most influential attempts to define privacy in the U.S. was The Right to Privacy, authored by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis. Published in 1890, The Right to Privacy attempted to discern whether the law recognized a “principle which can properly be invoked to protect the privacy of the individual . . .”[1] The article broadly defined privacy to include those things which “concern the private life, habits, acts, and relations of an individual,” those things which do not concern an individual’s fitness for a public office, and those things which do not concern an individual’s acts performed in a public place.[2] Privacy was defined in terms of a right, the “right to be left alone.”[3]

The definition of privacy has greatly expanded since The Right to Privacy was first published. One scholar has recently claimed that “[c]urrently, privacy is a sweeping concept, encompassing (among other things) freedom of thought, control over one’s body, solitude in one’s home, control over information about oneself, freedom from surveillance, protection of one’s reputation, and protection from searches and interrogations.”[4] Other interests identified as falling under the privacy umbrella include the protection of consumer data, credit reporting, workplace privacy, discovery in civil litigation, the dissemination of personal images, or shielding criminal offenders from public exposure.[5]

Privacy is so broad because “[c]onceptualizing privacy not only involves defining privacy but articulating the value of privacy. The value of privacy concerns its importance – how privacy is to be weighed relative to other interests and values.”[6] Such a balancing of competing interests contemplated by the term “privacy” is going to depend on the cultural and historical context in which the interests are examined.[7] For example, a right to privacy for most Americans would include the right to choose the names of their children without any interference. In contrast, it is permissible for French and German courts to determine that a name given to a newborn is contrary to the child’s best interests.[8] Similarly, Americans cleave tightly to the notion that a “broadly defined freedom of the press assures the maintenance of [America’s] political system and an open society.”[9] In China, in contrast, the notion of an independent press is absent; the majority of “print media, broadcast media, and book publishers were affiliated with the [Chinese Communist Party] or a government agency.”[10] Whether privacy means ensuring parents’ ability to name their own children or the right to an independent press, how privacy is defined is largely dependent on cultural influences.

Same Principle, Different Approaches: Privacy in the E.U., China, and the U.S.

The European Union

Privacy laws in Europe have been shaped by the continent’s social and political history. According to James Whitman, a professor of comparative and foreign law at Yale University, the European privacy regime is a direct product of the hierarchical structure of society endemic to Europe’s past.[11] Whitman argues that Europe’s privacy laws are a “form of protection of a right to respect and personal dignity,” focusing on the “rights to one’s image, name, and reputation . . . [and] the right to informational self-determination–the right to control the sorts of information disclosed about oneself.”[12]

The E.U.’s basic regime for protecting privacy rights is found in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Rights (“E.U. Convention”) of 1953. Article 8 of the E.U. Convention provides that “[e]veryone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” The Article further states that:

There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

European privacy rights were expanded by the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (“E.U. Data Convention”). Mindful “that it is desirable to extend the safeguards for everyone’s rights and fundamental freedoms, and in particular the right to the respect for privacy,” the E.U. Data Convention sought to ensure that every individual was afforded “respect for his rights and fundamental freedoms, and in particular his right to privacy, with regard to automatic processing of personal data relating to him.”

eu commissioner reding

E.U. Commissioner Viviane Reding, circa 2012, defends a bill meant to improve data protection (Reuters)

Privacy in the E.U. is further protected as a result of the adoption of Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (“E.U. Directive”). The E.U. Directive creates a legal floor for the minimum amount of privacy protection member states must afford to their citizens,[13] and it specifically limits processing of personal data.[14] Significantly, the E.U. Directive allows member states to craft laws penalizing parties for non-compliance with its provisions[15] and laws ensuring that processing personal information is only permissible after the subject “unambiguously” gives his or her consent.[16]

One final piece of E.U. privacy legislation relevant to this discussion is the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the E.U. (“E.U. Charter”). The E.U. Charter expressly protects personal data by stating that every person has the right to protect their personal data, to access the data that has been collected about them, and to be afforded the opportunity to rectify any incorrect information.[17] The E.U. Charter further states that any personal data “must be processed fairly for specified purposes and on the basis of the consent of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law.”

These four pieces of legislature form the basis of privacy rights in the E.U. They affirm an individual’s right to privacy, which in turn provides a right to “respect and dignity” concerning what personal information is disclosed, the method whereby that information is disclosed, and the ability to control personal information. Multinational corporations operating in the E.U. must be cognizant of the E.U.’s omnibus approach to privacy, which incorporates laws “in which the government has defined requirements throughout the economy including public-sector, private-sector and health-sector.”

The United States

Just as the development of privacy law in Europe was governed by Europe’s historical social context, so too has America’s privacy been determined by its unique social history. Conceived in the context of overthrowing the monarchical control Britain held over its colonies, it is no surprise that privacy in the U.S. is rooted in a deep mistrust of the government.[18] Therefore, the primary privacy concern of Americans might be generalized as protection of the sanctity of the private home against government interference.[19] Because such a privacy concern is defined broadly, U.S. approaches to privacy have focused on specific remedial efforts rather than comprehensive action.[20]

In contrast to the omnibus approach of the E.U. toward privacy protection, the U.S. has adopted a sectoral approach to privacy regulation. The sectoral approach places significance on industry self-regulation while trusting to case law and highly specific legislation to protect particular aspects of privacy law.[21] For example, U.S. Supreme Court cases have recognized a right to privacy regarding family planning[22] and intimacy[23] as “penumbras” emanating from the Bill of Rights despite the lack of an enumerated right of privacy.[24] Industry self-regulation must give way, however, when Congress perceives a failure on the part of industry to adequately protect privacy. Although there are many examples of interest-specific protections, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, one example of specific legislation with particular importance to these posts is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”).

bush signs Sarbanes oxley

President Bush signs the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002 (Ketan Rathod)

Although SOX amended many government statutes, of primary concern here is the Whistleblower Protection for Employees of Publicly Traded Companies provision.[25] The whistleblower provision delivers employees a cause of action against employer retaliation for the employee’s disclosure of the employer’s illegal conduct.[26] Further, SOX amended the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 to require procedures for receiving whistleblower complaints and ensuring that whistleblowers are able to make communications in a confidential, anonymous manner.[27]


China’s privacy policy, similar to the U.S. and the E.U., is the product of its past but, like the E.U. and unlike the U.S., China has focused on omnibus regulations rather than adopting a sectoral approach. To many, China is perceived as an authoritarian government that closely monitors its citizens, effectively depriving them of any meaningful expectation of privacy. However, China has more than 200 laws or regulations referencing privacy in some manner,[28] but the privacy protections are viewed as “more aspirational than descriptive.”[29]

The Chinese Constitution provides citizens with privacy protections by stating that the “personal dignity,” residence, correspondence, and ability to criticize the government are given to the people. In the case of correspondence, the Constitution permits the suspension of private communication “to meet the needs of State security.” China’s General Civil Code also provides for certain privacy protections, including the “right of portrait,” the use of which without the owner’s permission is not permitted. However, despite the promise of these privacy rights, they are frequently violated.[30] As a condition of foreign companies operating in China, the Chinese government requires compliance with its monitoring activities.[31]


The interests protected under the term “privacy” will vary between jurisdictions because of unique historical and social contexts. The E.U.’s omnibus approach to privacy protection traces its inception to the need to protect human dignity, which is furthered only if people have access to and control over their personal information. In contrast, the sectoral approach adopted in the U.S. is the offspring of a mistrust of government intervention; the government should not be permitted to intrude into a citizen’s homes or intrude in how companies operate, so long as companies are acting fairly. China, like the E.U., has adopted an omnibus privacy regulatory scheme, but the protections enumerated in its laws are frequently in conflict with the government’s censorship regime. Although derived from cultural and ideological differences, the differing interests protected by the various privacy regimes have practical consequences for companies operating in multiple jurisdictions. The next post in this three part blog series will use two case examples to illustrate the issues companies must face in operating in the global economy.


Greg Henning is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a General Editor for the View From Above.

[1] Samuel D. Warren & Louis D. Brandeis, The Right to Privacy, 4 Harv. L. Rev. 193, 197 (1890).

[2] See id. at 216.

[3] See id. at 195 (internal citations omitted).

[4] Daniel J. Solove, Conceptualizing Privacy, 90 Cal. L. Rev. 1087, 1088 (2002).

[5] See James Q. Whitman, The Two Western cultures of Privacy: Dignity Versus Liberty, 113 Yale L.J. 1151, 1156 (2004) (referring to the types of interests European privacy laws seek to protect) (internal citations omitted).

[6] Privacy book, page 42.

[7] See Helen Nissenbaum, Privacy as Contextual Integrity, 79 Wash. L. Rev. 119, 156 (2004) (“[N]orms of privacy in fact vary considerably from place to place, culture to culture, period to period . . ..”).

[8] See id. at 1216

[9] Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 389 (1967).

[10] Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012: China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau), U.S. Dept. of State (last visited Feb. 17, 2014), http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2012&dlid=204193.

[11] See Whitman, supra note 5, at 1165.

[12] Id. at 1161.

[13] See Council Directive 95/46/EC, art. 13 1995 O.J. (L 281) 31, 42.

[14] See id. arts. 6-9.

[15] Id. art. 23.

[16] Id. art. 7.

[17] Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, art. 8, 2000 O.J. (C 364), 1, 10.

[18] See Whitman, supra note 5, at 1211.

[19] See id. at 1161-62.

[20] See Ryan Moshell, 373

[21] See Anna E. Shimanek, Do You Want Milk With Those Cookies?: Complying with the Safe Harbor Privacy Principles, 26 J. Corp. L. 455, 465-66 (2001).

[22] Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

[23] Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2005).

[24] See Griswold, 381 U.S. 479, 484.

[25] 18 U.S.C. § 1514A (2010)

[26] See Id.

[27] See 15 U.S.C. § 78j-1 (2010).

[28] See Ann Bartow, Privacy Laws and Privacy Levers: Online Surveillance Versus Economic Development in The People’s Republic of China, 74 Ohio St. L.J. 853, 855 (2013).

[29] Id. at 856.

[30] See Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012: China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau), U.S. Dept. of State (last visited Feb. 17, 2014), http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2012&dlid=204193.

[31] See David Scheffer & Caroline Kaeb, The Five Levels of CSR Compliance: The Resiliency of Corporate Liability Under the Alien Tort Statute and the Case for a Counterattack Strategy in Compliance, 29 Berkeley J. Int’l L. 334, 389-90 (2011).

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Critical Analysis: Internet Surveillance Concerns Spark International Response

In May 2013, NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified documents relating to mass surveillance programs igniting a long overdue international conversation concerning the legal rights and protections of data and digital communications in the internet age. Initially the media focused on the compelling story of Snowden’s decision to sacrifice his comfortable lifestyle and personal privacy in his flight from the US to asylum in Russia. Eventually the attention returned to the main question: how do we ensure that internet users’ rights are protected as the internet becomes an ever-increasing part of our daily lives? One of the biggest challenges in answering this question will be balancing the competing interests of governments, international organizations, businesses and individuals.

Vivane reding

European Union justice commissioner Viviane Reding addresses Parliament over privacy issues (picture-alliance/dpa)

The disclosures, which immediately sparked worldwide outrage, are now starting to bring about real change as governments begin to enact legislation that seeks to address many of the concerns exposed.  The European Union recently approved new data protection rules aimed specifically at preventing the issues presented by mass governmental surveillance programs. The rules seek to establish online privacy rights for EU citizens, simplification of the complaint process, and tougher standards for businesses that use personal data. The initial approval of these regulations has met criticism from internet businesses that say the new rules will result in impractical burdens.

While the European Union has led the charge, countries around the world have escalated the priority of data privacy laws. Indonesia publicly announced their support for United Nations’ actions with regards to data privacy. Opportunistic countries like the Bahamas are trying to establish themselves as safe places for companies to process personal data. Other countries, like Brazil, are taking more drastic positions on protecting their citizen’s data, calling for data localization and a break from the US-Centric Internet. Part of the concern arises out of the perceived dominance of the United States in the realm of internet governance. However, there are legitimate concerns that regulations restricting the flow of data will fundamentally change the internet, resulting in data silos and reduced innovation.

Reactions to the NSA spying program have been mixed in the United States. Many officials at the federal level have either denied culpability or maintained the importance of the programs. United States citizens concerned about data privacy may have better luck taking up the issue with their local state governments. While the United States federal government has sidestepped the issue many states have recently enacted new data privacy laws and state attorneys general can enforce those statutes. Privacy advocates hope that these laws will help to encourage laws at the federal level which can be more expansive in the scope of their protection.

If global internet usage trends are any indication, the issues of data privacy and internet governance will remain at the forefront of international policy discussions. The issue of data privacy prevents challenges on many fronts, including the fact that the pace of technology innovation vastly exceeds the ability of governing bodies to create legislation. In addition, we are seeing how the fear of data surveillance can strain the international relationships between countries. However great the challenges may be, the fact that this issue has gained international attention and created an active dialogue on the issues is a necessary step in the right direction.

Matthew Aeschbacher is a 3LE law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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members of polaris project

Technology Takes on Trafficking: How Data Collection is Changing the International Fight Against Modern Slavery (Part 3 of 3)

This is the final blog of a series of three blog posts addressing technological solutions to combat human trafficking. This post analyzes the efforts private partnerships to encourage the application of technology to create anti-trafficking solutions. The first blog in this series discussed the scope of human trafficking worldwide, and domestic and international instruments designed to address it. The second blog in this series discussed the importance of the increased use of technology in the fight against human trafficking, and provided an overview of the scope of current research on technology.

“[W]e must take action, on the basis of solid information. Having dissected the human trafficking drama by the type of exploitation, the age and gender of the victims, the profiles of perpetrators, and the source/transit/destination of human cargos, we will soon be able to describe the problem, its time trends and space patterns. The goal is to facilitate implementation of the [U.N. Trafficking] Protocol’s ‘3 Ps’: prevention of the crime, prosecution of the traffickers, and protection of the victims. Everyone has a role to play.” – UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa[i]

 Part III: Emerging Partnerships

The first blog in this series discussed the scope of the human trafficking epidemic worldwide—an estimated 27 million men, women, and children are victims of trafficking at any given time.[ii] While international and domestic laws prohibit all forms of enslavement, meaningful efforts to truly eradicate the plague of human trafficking are stymied by a critical problem: a lack of meaningful data on the size, scope, and nature of trafficking. As the second blog revealed, a variety of groups are beginning to compile research and consider the issue of how to incorporate technology into
human trafficking solutions.

columbian sex worker

A columbian sex worker. Sexual exploitation accounts for roughly 80 percent of human trafficking. (UNICEF)

Recently, technology companies have been stepping in to fill this void, providing both material and intellectual support for the cause. The United States government has taken notice, and is praising the involvement of private enterprise in the fight against human trafficking.

The U.S. State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report includes a brief section discussing the important strides being made to connect anti-human trafficking initiatives with technology.[iii] After discussing innovations in prevention, protection, and prosecution already taking place through the use of mobile devices and computers, the report lists several examples of “technology giants” that have joined the fight against human trafficking. Two of these giants—Google and Palantir Technologies—are working to provide the anti-trafficking movement exactly what it needs most—comprehensive data.


Google – Connecting Anti-Trafficking Hotlines

Google funded a new global data sharing collaboration by granting a $3 million Global Impact Award to anti-trafficking organizations Polaris Project, Liberty Asia, and La Strada International. Google’s Global Impact Awards are given to “support nonprofits using technology and innovation to tackle tough human challenges.” All three recipients of this particular Global Impact Award are involved in addressing human trafficking on separate continents:

  • The Polaris Project, named for the North Star “Polaris” that guided slaves to freedom before the United States abolished slavery, is a leading anti-slavery organization based in Washington, D.C. It focuses on advocating for stronger federal and state anti-trafficking laws, operating the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, conducting trainings, and providing vital services to victims of trafficking. The Polaris Project strives to “create long-term solutions that move our society closer to a world without slavery.”
  • Liberty Asia is a relatively new non-governmental organization formed in 2011 to unite the hundreds of groups working independently on the issue of human trafficking in Asia. Liberty Asia aims to unite these groups by making online resources available to enable information sharing and coordination. Its mission includes: “coordinat[ing] activities, particularly across-borders; shar[ing] information, expertise, evidence, case studies and operations; provid[ing] a regional contact point for those threatened and victimised; creat[ing] and shar[ing] education programmes and awareness campaigns to broaden knowledge of slavery in Asia; and creat[ing] a powerful network across Asia to introduce and collaborate on strategies and future actions.”
  • La Strada International (“LSI”) is a network of eight European non-governmental organizations in Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Moldova, The Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine. LSI aims to prevent trafficking, especially of women, throughout Europe. The mission of LSI is “to improve the position of women and to promote their universal rights, including the right to choose to emigrate and work abroad and to be protected from violence and abuse.”

What do these three non-governmental organizations have in common, besides their aim of abolition? Each organization independently operates its own human trafficking hotline, receiving hundreds of calls from victims and from individuals who want to report suspected trafficking. Connecting these helplines is one of the first steps toward identifying illicit patterns and providing victims with more effective support worldwide.  Through this Google-funded initiative, the organizations will begin to compile and analyze data from each of their call centers, no longer taking in information in isolation. It is the first step in tracking global trafficking trends.

Since its inception in 2004, Polaris’ hotline alone has received 72,000 trafficking-related calls, reported more than 3,000 trafficking cases to law enforcement officials and assisted nearly 8,300 trafficking victims. This three-minute video highlights how the project will use analysis of data from these incoming calls to combat trafficking.



Notably, the video describes how, as more and more data are collected and shared, researchers will be able to locate “hot spots,” or risk areas, and track patterns of trafficking. Armed with this information, anti-trafficking advocates can begin to construct comprehensive global solutions that are responsive to the realities of trafficking, rather than mere guesswork.

As the second blog in this series noted, there is currently a lack of clarity surrounding what the characteristics of a useful international instrument to combat technology-facilitated trafficking should look like, and a debate regarding whether the current Protocol, the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, provides adequate legal scaffolding to encompass the burgeoning use of technology to facilitate trafficking. The data that will become available as a result of the collaboration between Polaris Project, Liberty Asia, and La Strada International will shed more light on where and how technology is used to facilitate trafficking. At that point, both international and domestic lawmakers will be better equipped to assess the current laws and propose changes if they are necessary.


Palantir Technologies – Making Sense of Raw Data

Palantir Technologies is the second technology giant involved in helping this project succeed. The company describes its overall business’ purpose as “working to radically change how groups analyze information.” Its primary business is offering software applications “for integrating, visualizing and analyzing the world’s information,” software that is used by a variety of industries including intelligence, defense, and law enforcement.

Using this expertise, Palantir partnered with Polaris to provide an analytical platform, engineering, training, and support resources to Polaris’ National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Palantir’s platform and assistance are enabling the study and application of the data derived from calls to the hotline.

members of polaris project

Members of the Polaris Project visit DC (Polaris Project)

As mentioned above, the United States government encourages the development of such partnerships to make use of the tools private companies already have at their disposal. Not only is this phenomenon filling a void in a problem too large and nebulous for the criminal justice system to tackle alone, but it also attacks the problem from an angle that is inherently not available to government entities because of their intimidating status as law enforcement.

Bradley Myles, executive director of the Polaris Project, highlights the unique ability of private groups such as nonprofits and businesses to serve as a resource for trafficking victims. “We’re not the government and we’re not law enforcement, so people generally give us very direct information about what they’re experiencing,” Mr. Myles said in this interview with the Huffington Post. In the interview, he also mentions the need for these private groups to serve as a “fulcrum,” connecting law enforcement with perpetrators while at the same time connecting victims with the resources they need to recover.

Currently, the legal community is equipped with what appears to be a relatively robust set of international and domestic laws tailored to criminalizing human trafficking. The anti-trafficking movement’s present focus on incorporating business and technology into evidence-based solutions has the potential to provide the long-missing piece to the human trafficking puzzle—not necessarily more laws, but better information leading to increased enforcement of the existing laws. As more complete information is compiled and analyzed with the help of technology and innovation, more lives can be saved from the suffering of human trafficking.

P.S. – The U.S. Department of State published the following list of 20 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking, and Polaris Project compiled this list of international resources. You don’t need to be Google to make an impact.

Whitney Denning is a 3L and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

[i] Antonio Maria Costa, Exec. Dir. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Human Trafficking: A Crime that Shames Us All (Feb. 13, 2008), available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/about-unodc/speeches/2008-02-13.html (emphasis omitted).

[ii] U.S. Dep’t of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 7 (2013).

[iii] Id. at 14-15.


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