New Data Fusion Center Illuminates Criminal Underworld

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

Organizations are teaming up to create a new data fusion center focused on human and wildlife trafficking

Equipped with artificial intelligence, machine learning technology, and determination, a coalition of frontline organizations in Asia and Africa are teaming up to develop a new data fusion center that targets the $170 billion/year illegal business of human and wildlife trafficking. The center will help governments find traffickers and repossess their assets to fund the recovery of damaged communities, wildlife populations, and ecosystems.

The Analytical Center of Excellence on Trafficking, or “ACET”, is the first civil society/for-profit joint venture made up of NGOs, tech companies, and law enforcement partners that share the goal of ridding the world of human slavery and the illicit endangered species trade.

Human trafficking currently generates $150 billion a year in profits for the sex trade, agricultural and fishing sectors, textile and construction businesses, domestic servitude, illicit adoption and baby surrogacy trade, and more. Wildlife trafficking is estimated around $20 billion a year and is devastating wild animal and plant species on nearly every continent, including one elephant every 30 minutes. Experts have pointed to the probability that these illicit trades are somehow linked, and overlap with drugs trafficking, arms trafficking, and insurgencies. However, evidence of these links are usually not clearly illuminated or effectively dealt with, while the trafficking businesses only seem to grow.

Founding members of ACET (pronounced “asset”) have been working for the past 18 months with technology experts to hatch new solutions to eroding the trafficking world by analyzing the drivers and roadblocks.

“One of the barriers to progress we identified was the lack of cooperation in the counter-trafficking world,” said Matt Friedman, CEO of the Hong Kong-based, antihuman trafficking group Mekong Group, an ACET partner. “Groups trying to stop wildlife poaching do not realize that traffickers in elephant ivory, may for example, be trafficking people too, or are using the same corrupt supply chains, and yet we are not sharing that data.”

Sean O’Regan from the counter-trafficking group Freeland, based in Nairobi, added that “another reason the various stakeholders don’t always share data is because they worry about security and losing credit for their findings.”

ACET Founder Steve Galster added another challenge: “Sadly, it’s still more rewarding to enslave people and traffic animals than it is to protect them. We need to reverse that equation, which we can do through data and technology.”

ACET is designed to make counter-trafficking rewarding. ACET founding partner Freeland spent $65,000 in effort to help the Thai Anti-Money Laundering Organization (AMLO) track down and freeze $36 million in assets linked to organized crime. “That’s a 550-fold return - the kind of ROI we encourage more of,” said ACET Senior Analyst, Onkuri Majumdar.

ACET is also being supported by fintech-related partners. “We will incentivize data sharing among the many organizations and individuals working in this field,” said Ricardo Forrester, General Manager of ACET. “Everyone who brings data and financial support to advance anti-money laundering cases will be issued digital tokens to track their contribution, so when a case is successful, we can trace the footprints of collaborators and reward them.”

ACET is designed to capitalize on the most powerful assets of frontline organizations – their information and expertise – while recognizing their legal limits. “We are not police,” Galster said. “As private citizens, companies and NGOs, we are focused on finding and using data that can power a significantly under-used civil law to unplug the trafficking apparatus: anti-money laundering. Billions of dollars have been made illegally off the backs of people and animals, so all of that money was laundered. Lets help governments find those assets and recycle them for good.”

“Think of ACET as a Data Fusion Center and “Robin Hood Collective”, Galster added. “The process of seizing illicit assets is currently a long one, but with technology we hope to speed that process up. With literally over a trillion dollars made by traffickers in the past 6 years alone, we believe it’s worth the effort. We aim to drain the fuel tanks of the traffickers to fill our own and help heal our planet and people.”

ACET is being equipped with artificial intelligence tools from IBM and the digital intelligence company Cellebrite. Subject matter experts on trafficking, organized crime, and corruption are joining ACET from their locations across Asia and Africa, with plans for new partners to join. Data is currently being compiled and organized. ACET is funded by multiple donors including PMI IMPACT – a global grant initiative by Philip Morris International to support projects dedicated to fighting illegal trade and related crimes. IBM has donated their signature “i-2 Analyst Notebook” software to ACET partners Freeland and Mekong Club, while Cellebrite donated their “UFED Physical Analyzer” digital intelligence tools to Freeland for training in support of multiple successful enforcement and asset forfeiture cases.

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