Is there a relationship between human trafficking and new technology?

9 August, 2018


  • In honor of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons (July 30), the Government of Costa Rica, IOM, ILANUD, and the Embassy of the United States held a symposium in Costa Rica on criminal groups, human trafficking and use of technologies.
  • The US university professor Vanessa Bouché, who is also the principal investigator for the organization Human Trafficking Data, attended as a guest speaker.



Human trafficking is a crime which generates an estimated 1.3 billion dollars per year. In Costa Rica alone,  the Immediate Response Team confirmed a total of 39 victims of human trafficking in 2017. Similar cases occur throughout the world due to transnational organized crime, that is, the ability of organized groups to implement strategies for capturing, recruiting, transporting, and exploiting victims in different territories at the local, national, and international level.

In the information age, technology has created conditions that criminal organizations have taken advantage of to expand illegal activities such as drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child pornography, among others, on a global scale.

The Symposium: The Crime of Trafficking in Persons: A Transnational Online Threat was held Monday July 30 as a space for discussion, analysis, and reflection on the combination of human trafficking, transnational organized crime, and cybercrime.  

The majority of human trafficking victims have been deceived by offers that appear to be ideal opportunities to improve their economic situation and lifestyle. However, in most cases, situations such as these end in different forms of exploitation. The modus operandi of criminal networks specializing in human trafficking changes constantly, modernizing itself with new technological resources, which are also perfect for capturing more people. This occurs, for example, in operations such as phishing, online grooming, and sextortion.

Alice Shackelford, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Costa Rica, reaffirmed the country's commitment to the 2030 Agenda, including its objective of combating human trafficking to achieve sustainable development. Roeland de Wilde, Chief of Mission of IOM Costa Rica, indicated that according to new data published by

the Organization, in the last ten years almost the 80 percent of international travel by victims was through official border checkpoints, such as airports and control points on land borders. This emphasizes the need for national governments to design and execute solid border management procedures that are sensitive to migrants' vulnerabilities and needs for protection.

Vanessa Bouché, US data expert invited to the Symposium, spoke about the importance of integrating all sectors and organizations in the fight against human trafficking. She addressed the three ways the private sector can contribute with respect to human trafficking: first, it can collaborate on technological tools that support the fight against human trafficking. Second, it can employ people who are victims of human trafficking, who need to reintegrate into society in a safe, dignified, and formal way. And third, it can support the possibility of developing agreements and inter-institutional cooperation as a key part of the fight against trafficking.

Sandra Chávez, secretary of the Human Trafficking and Counter Smuggling Coalition, mentioned Costa Rica's progress on the issue: "We have a National Coalition against Human Trafficking and Smuggling, we have a rapid response team and a strategy for assisting victims, and national regulations that enable the country to work on prevention and generate resources for this cause."

On his part, Rodrigo Picado, investigator of the Computer Crime Unit, of the Judicial Investigation Department (OIJ), gave the example of Operation RI-NO, which was awarded best national investigation in 2017. This case is particularly important because it was transnational, involving people from Mexico, the U.S., and Brazil  who specialized in online child pornography. Through the investigation, the victims were identified and many of the people who worked on these sites and produced the pornographic materials were captured. It is the first time in the police history of Costa Rica that raids have been carried out on websites, especially on the deep web.

This symposium was organized by the Mesoamerica Program of the International Organization for Migration in Costa Rica, the General Directorate of Migration and Foreign Affairs, the National Institute of Learning, the US Embassy, and ILANUD. It was held in order to make the crime of human trafficking an issue of national public interest rather than a merely judicial or police matter, and to strengthen dialogue between the diverse sectors that can provide support in the fight against human trafficking. 


Some relevant concepts:

Trafficking in persons: transnational organized crime, whose purpose is "[...] the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation." (Palermo Protocol, 2000).

Transnational organized crime: a global phenomenon encompassing the organizational character of the structure of criminal groups whose operations have a transnational reach, that is, the proliferation of their activities in national and international spaces (ILANUD, 2017).

Cybercrime: “[…] the set of behaviors worthy of criminal sanction which have as their instrument or object information technology systems or elements, or which have a significant relationship with them, and are capable of causing multiple forms of damage to various legal assets.”        (Acuario del Pino, Santiago, 2009).


For more information, contact Isis Orozco: