Human trafficking generates billions of dollars in profits per year, second only to drug trafficking as the profitable form of transnational crime. The exploitation of women, men and children for forced labor and sexual acts has permeated the global community. The internet creates both new opportunities for traffickers to exploit vulnerable people around the world, and a platform to identify traffickers in this unlawful industry.
According to the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security reported opening 1,304 investigations possibly involving human trafficking in fiscal year (FY) 2015 (October through September), an increase from 987 in FY 2014. During FY 2015, the Department of Justice secured convictions against 297 traffickers, compared with 184 convictions obtained in FY 2014. Of these, 291 involved predominantly sex trafficking and six involved predominantly labor trafficking, although several involved both.
Sex trafficking and human slavery are certainly nothing new, but the internet has created a dark space for predators to buy and sell people. Today, more than 150,000 escort ads are posted in the U.S. every day, many of them for children. The human trafficking industry enslaves an estimated 27 million people worldwide.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 is interpreted to shield websites that participate in sex trafficking from any criminal liability. On Monday, Congresswoman Ann Wagner introduced the bipartisan States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017. This would allow state authorities to investigate and prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking using state criminal statutes that prohibit sex trafficking or sexual exploitation of children. The Act also clarifies that it is unlawful for a provider of an interactive computer service to publish information provided by someone with reckless disregard that the information is a sex trafficking offense. This means that social media, classified ad sites and a host of other computer platforms could be held accountable if it introduces an underage person to a possible sex buyer.
Several public-private partnerships have formed to deter human trafficking. In February, Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT), the Texas Trucking Association and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton brought the trucking industry and law enforcement together to discuss human trafficking. Last year, Paxton’s office partnered with TAT on a series of coalition builds in Lubbock, Tyler, Houston and San Antonio.
On April 4, Gov. Greg Abbott delivered remarks at a workshop hosted by the Governor’s Child Sex-Trafficking Team (CSTT) designed to develop collaborative approaches to recovering child sex-trafficking victims and providing them the services they need to heal and thrive. Attending the event were six multi-disciplinary teams (MDTs) from areas around the state where trafficking is heavily prevalent, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Waco, Austin and San Antonio. The teams are made up of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, child protection and juvenile justice agency personnel, medical and mental health service providers and community and faith-based organizations.
Over the 4-day workshop the MDTs will develop action plans to bring back to their regions and implement a coordinated response to child sex-trafficking in order to bring exploiters of children to justice.
Human trafficking is also monitored in the skies. Airline Ambassadors International trains workers at airlines and airports how to spot and report cases of human trafficking. It also delivers humanitarian aid around the world and transports sick children who need medical care. The organization began in 1996 and started focusing on human trafficking in 2009. They have held 52 training sessions in the U.S. and abroad since 2011.
The hotel industry is also keeping a watchful eye for strange activity. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy announced that government officials and private partners were taking on a new initiative to provide training for state hotel and motel operators and their employees about the warning signs of human trafficking and how best to report suspicious activity. Most of the sightings have been along Interstate 95. Some of the warning signs of trafficking in a hotel/motel include a child staying for an extended timeframe with few or no possessions, pornography being rented in a room that a child is staying in, and a child appearing to be disoriented, confused, and unrelated to the adult with whom they are staying.
In February, Thorn founder and actor Ashton Kutcher went viral when he gave personal testimony to the U.S. Senate on the tragedy of child trafficking. Kutcher highlighted the public-private partnerships that have enabled his software to succeed, as well as the need to help children once they are found. Thorn creates tech tools specifically geared to helping authorities. In 2011, law enforcement officials in the U.S. turned 22 million images and videos of child abuse over to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to identify victims. Thorn is using machine learning, in which computers learn what advertisements represent a child, and creates an algorithm to predict what other ads are more likely to be associated with a child. That may hopefully reduce the thousands of images of children in circulation.
The organizations also uses facial recognition software that recognizes signs of aging and can identify children from photos. They are working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s database of missing children that could be matched to images from online ads. This helps detectives in tracking down and identifying children.
These digital defenders of children have also created a way for victims and concerned citizens to send a silent text message 24-hours a day. “BeFree” (233733) instantly connects individuals with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, operated by the Polaris Project.
Since 2007, the NHTRC hotline has received more than 70,000 calls from across the country and around the world, connected more than 8,300 victims to assistance and support and reported more than 3,000 cases to law enforcement. NHTRC is partially funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division.
General contractors, engineers and architectural firms watch school bond elections carefully because the bond packages represent upcoming opportunities worth billions of dollars. One must wonder why thousands of other types of firms are not watching bond elections as diligently also.
When a bond referendum is passed at any jurisdictional level, the contracting opportunities are not only large, they are diverse and almost every one of them has a component for small and/or minority business participation. The volume of projects funded just through school bond elections is staggering. For example, Texas voters will decide on more than $5.5 billion in just school bonds alone in May. Oklahoma, a much smaller state, saw voters approve more than $900 million in school bond elections in 2016.
The Bismarck (N.D.) Public Schools saw voters approve a $57 million bond issue on March 7. The funds will be used to expand and renovate three middle schools and two high schools. The bond issue was necessary because of district growth and increasing middle school capacity.
The Boise (Idaho) School District also got a $172.5 million bond issue approved in March. The bond funding will allow the district to provide improvements at all 48 schools and will address major building projects at 22 school campuses. These projects include construction of six new schools on their current sites, construction of a new school in Harris Ranch and expansion of the district’s Professional-Technical Education Center.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a bond package of $111 million in February for the Edmond (Okla.) Public Schools. The bond issue focused on five areas: technology, transportation, shelters, the high school and improvements and upgrades at a number of facilities. The district will construct a new state-of-the-art middle school as well as storm shelters and a new stadium at Santa Fe High School. School officials will also purchase land for future schools, new buses and new technology.
Helena (Mont.) Public Schools has scheduled a bond election for May and funding requests total $63 million. The funds will be used to rebuild three new K-5 schools and to make technology and safety improvements at all K-8 schools.
Taxpayers will be asked to approve a bond package of $169 million for the Andover (Md.) Public School District this month. The district plans to build two new schools and make safety upgrades to school buildings and facilities.
The West Bloomfield (Mich.) School District has a bond election scheduled for May and will ask voters to approve $120 million. Passage of the bond election will allow the district to implement its long-range facilities plan and make improvements at every school facility. Highlights include consolidation of two middle schools into a new 21st Century middle school on the current Orchard Lake Middle School site, continuing enhancements to improve student safety and school security, upgrading and replacing instructional technology, replacing end-of-life school buses, adding an auxiliary gym to West Bloomfield High School and remodeling fine arts facilities, auditorium, pool area and bathrooms, creating flexible learning spaces at all elementary schools and transforming outdated spaces at West Bloomfield High School.
Clear Creek Independent School District (CCISD), League City, Texas, hopes voters in May will approve a large bond package that totals $487 million. The majority of the bond funds will be used to address CCISD’s aging schools and critically needed repairs. The district plans to rebuild two schools and provide technology upgrades and renovations at six other facilities. The district also plans to spend nearly $73 million to build an elementary school and provide permanent additions to other school buildings. More than $20 million is needed for safety improvements, the replacement of 75 buses, elementary playground replacement and repair and upgrades to security. The district plans to spend more than $30 million on technology.
The contracting opportunities that result from bond elections are huge, especially when considering that the opportunities outlined in these few examples are for school districts only. City bond elections, which will also occur in the near future, are usually larger and therefore offer even more contracting opportunities.
Has this happened to you while driving? The radio in your vehicle is playing a song on a local radio station’s frequency and then suddenly the song starts fading in and out in the car speakers until it either goes to dead air or picks up another radio station. You have traveled beyond the bandwidth of that frequency and have now found yourself singing the rest of the song a cappella style. Well, the same thing applies to the internet and Wireless Fidelity or Wi-Fi.
Your device can pick up a Wi-Fi signal that connects it to the internet, thru the air just like a high-frequency radio signal. Wi-Fi, like the frequency of a radio station, is regulated. Electronic components that make up a wireless network are based on one of the 802.11 standards that were set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Wi-Fi Alliance. The Wi-Fi Alliance trademarked the name Wi-Fi and promoted the technology. The technology is also referred to as WLAN, short for wireless local area network. The type of 802.11 protocol used indoors will deliver transmission ranges anywhere from 115 to 230 feet.
It is up to you to foot the bill for wireless technology in your home, but most indoor establishments pay to offer some type of free Wi-Fi for your convenience. But what happens when you go outside? Free Wi-Fi kiosks by CIVIQ Smartscapes have started popping up in cities like New York, Miami, Portland, Ore., Chicago and San Antonio. The kiosk includes a dual 55-inch outdoor display, dual touch screen, Wi-Fi and USB quick charge capabilities. These kiosks are scattered throughout the city and provide a Wi-Fi range from 150 to 250 feet. The kiosks can also be customized to provide information about upcoming events, geographic points of interest other local information.
New York plans to have 7,500 kiosks by 2024. The city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications oversees upkeep of the LinkNYC kiosks while CityBridge, a group of tech companies, assumes responsibility for installation of the kiosks in exchange for the advertising revenue generated by the project. The advertising shown on the kiosks means that the city offers the service with possibly no cost to the taxpayers. Since the law prohibits this type of arrangement in Texas, Bexar County is paying $280,122 for the six kiosks to be installed throughout San Antonio this summer.
For those traveling underground, the Wi-Fi signal can be very faint, but the city of New York found a way to deliver free wireless throughout their underground subway stations. Service underground went live at a few stations five years ago, but January officially marked the goal date of delivering the service at all stations. In addition to wireless, some stations now offer cellular service. These services presently are not offered on trains traveling between stations, but the city has promised that the service would be available when they roll out their next generation subway trains in 2020.
The company that provides the free service for the city agreed to spend $7 million on the Wi-Fi operation over five years and will advertise along the route to promote it. To access the Wi-Fi connection and enter the password, users have to start at a landing page which highlights local events, poses a poll question, provides the weather and allows the city to interact with the users.
If you feel like getting away from the city and might want to go climb a mountain, Mount Everest, would be your best option for Wi-Fi. Previously, a couple of the base camp services offered Wi-Fi at $5 an hour, but free wireless will be made available soon at the Lukla-Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp along Everest. The Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) plans on using fibre-optic cables that can resist the extreme cold atop Everest.
The NTA will also introduce a system of wireless broadband transmitters to send microwave signals up and down the mountain in case extreme weather interferes with the fibre-optic cables. At 17,600 feet above sea level, the base camp will be the highest location on Earth with free Wi-Fi.
For those who would rather keep their feet firmly planted at the bottom of a mountain can head to one of several beaches and camping areas to get free wireless outside. Most of these outdoor venues have been offering the luxury of Wi-Fi for a few years. And believe it or not, you can even get free wireless service at a cemetery. At Oak Grove Cemetery in Paducah, Ky., visitors who want to perform genealogical research don’t have to wait until they get home to look up names on head stones. In 2016, Moscow, Russia equipped 133 cemeteries with wireless technology. Some of these cemeteries are the final resting place of well-known authors and leaders and the Wi-Fi allows visitors to learn more about those laid to rest.
Photo: by Karen Bryan