Cambridge Technologists Advise at White House in Task Force to Fight Human Trafficking

Cambridge Technologists Advise at White House in Task Force to Fight Human Trafficking

by Sarah Cortes-On Tuesday, the White House invited technologists from all over the world to brief senior staff on the use of technology to combat human trafficking. The White House conducted the briefing as part of its Human Trafficking Task Force. Human trafficking is described as modern day slavery.
Dr. Steven Chan, a Chief Technology Officer/Research Fellow within the Department of Comparative Media Studies at MIT and Andrew Lewman, Executive Director of the Tor Project were among the invited technologists.

Attorney General Eric Holder addressed the Task Force first on Tuesday morning in the White House briefing room. He noted an estimate of 27 million individuals believed held in modern day slavery due to Human Trafficking, a White House and Obama priority, Holder stated.

Janet Napolitano next requested feedback on the draft action plan from those attending.

Andrew Lewman, Executive Director of Tor, participated in the briefing Tuesday at the White House's invitation. He accepted the request to join the White House in 2012 during the White House's effort to enlist technology and technologists to combat human trafficking in order to "better understand the role of technology in modern day slavery," said Lewman. "There is much discusison about technology, with little empirical data published to support the discussion," he added. Tor technology has been used by law enforcement and human services providers to help victims of domestic violence as well as human trafficking. Lewman and Tor have advocated on behalf of victims, as well as for internet freedom in general. As Lewman explained his role in the task force, "my activities generaly consisted of applying a computer security mindset to elucidating how technology can be used for both good and bad in slavery networks."

The Tor Project,, a local nonprofit with staff in 12 countries around the world, is a leader in internet privacy research and technology, best known for Tor Browser. According to, "a web browser is a software application for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web." Other popular browsers include Internet Explorer and Google Chrome. Tor Browser, based on onion routing, invented by Dr. Paul Syverson of the US Navy in 1998, provides anonymity online. Open source and free, Tor browser and other tools are used all over the world, including in Egypt during the uprising overthrowing the Mubarak regime, and currently by political dissidents in Syria. One of the largest user groups, law enforcement click on Tor Browser when agents must hide their identity while investigating online crimes including trafficking, drug dealing, and child abuse. Victims of human trafficking may make use of privacy tools to free themselves. Targets of domestic violence and intimate partner abuse also use Tor when seeking to escape or to gather information about improving their situation.

Tor's Board of Directors includes Wendy Seltzer, also of Cambridge. Seltzer's appointments include Policy Counsel to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Visiting Fellow with Yale Law School's Information Society Project. She is affiliated with Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. Seltzer served as staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She founded and developed the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, a project to study and combat the ungrounded legal threats that chill activity on the Internet.

According to his website, Steve Chan, who also participated Tuesday, serves as Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. He is currently a Prince of Wales Senior Fellow and a Chief Technology Officer/Research Fellow within the Department of Comparative Media Studies at MIT.