Obama Administration

CTO talks tech role in fighting sex trade

CTO Todd Park

A White House effort to stem the tide of child sex trafficking is beginning to get results, CTO Todd Park says.

The issue of child sex trafficking is not particularly high profile for the Obama administration, but a new initiative, heavy on technology, could change that.

Federal CTO Todd Park, speaking at a luncheon hosted by TechAmerica in May 2, pointed to a speech given by the president at the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012 when Obama promised to redouble efforts to go after sex traffickers abroad and at home.

"Just as they are now using technology and the Internet to exploit their victims, we're going to harness technology to stop them," Obama said. "We're encouraging tech companies and advocates and law enforcement -- and we're also challenging college students -- to develop tools that our young people can use to stay safe online and on their smart phones."

Park cited chilling statistics -- that 100,000 American children are essentially sold into a life of sex slavery every year, and that 75 percent of those children are trafficked online.

According to Park, the White House efforts against domestic human trafficking are starting to bear fruit. Efforts to shut down websites that contained ads for trafficked children were unproductive, he said, because the ads would move from site to site. Additionally, traffickers do not overtly advertise the availability of underage girls. Law enforcement officers spent time poring over tens of thousands of online sex ads posted every week at  sites like Backpage.com for clues, but this was extremely labor intensive.

As an outgrowth of the Obama initiative, the Ford Foundation helped build a tool that used algorithms to identify signals that an ad was written by or is advertising an underage girl. "I can't get into detail about the tools. We don't want the traffickers to know," Park said.

Park also noted the power of the White House to bring together top talent to focus on problems. "When I was in biz dev, 95 percent of my time was spent getting the meeting," Park said. "At the White House, you make a list of 50 people you want,  announce you're holding a meeting in a week-and-a-half, and everyone shows up."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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