Using Open Data and Mapping to Fight Human Trafficking

By Ian Cairns on Oct 01 2010 . Posted in Events.

I'm traveling to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln today to present at the university's second annual conference on human trafficking. The event brings together a combination of academics, NGOs, and U.S. government agencies who are working in various ways to combat human trafficking.

While we haven't worked directly on any projects related to human trafficking, we were invited to speak about our work on data visualization and mapping to show how open data and open source tools are making a difference in other areas like disaster response, election monitoring, and food security — and how they could potentially be leveraged to more effectively combat human trafficking. Many of these scenarios represent instances of best practices for a new paradigm in sharing data and coordinating between agencies and organizations. In a situation where a diversity of organizations are working around the world on various aspects of the same issue, open data and mapping have the potential to create huge efficiency gains in everyone's work. It will be great to meet with everyone and hear what they are up to, and to see how some of these tools could benefit another important area of international development and justice.

We found out about the event through Gary Kebbel, who we worked with at the Knight Foundation, before he took on his new role as dean of the College of Journalism at the University of Nebraska, and are excited to be participating. Over 27 million people today are estimated to be engaged in some form of modern slavery, whether in forced labor, military service, or the sex industry, according to the United Nations. The U.S. State Department and a number of NGOs have been pushing this issue to the forefront in the past 10 years, but the complexities of the different kinds and definitions of trafficking and variations in national laws and cultural norms make it a difficult problem to address. Meetings like this that bring together a diversity of experts to learn from each other's work are critical to help improve the effectiveness of advocacy, interventions, and aftercare.

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