This module is a resource for lecturers


Privacy and data concerns


The harnessing of technology for tackling trafficking and smuggling crimes needs to be vigorously pursued, but without undermining the fundamental rights of both the victims and the public (Gerry et al, 2016). Privacy and data protection considerations are included in the UNODC (2008, Tool 9.15) toolkit on " Use of standardized data collection instruments" or the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking's (2008) " Guide to ethics and human rights in counter trafficking". The global nature of trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants means that attention needs to be paid to similar concerns in various locations where concepts of privacy and data protection are less well developed (see Cybercrime Module 10 on Privacy and Data Protection).

Examples of technology which might be used to tackle trafficking and smuggling, but which can also create privacy and data concerns include (Gerry et al, 2016):

Location tracking:

  • As mentioned further above, States such as Bahrain have distributed SIM cards to workers upon arrival in the country to enable the workers to use text messaging to contact the regulatory authority immediately if there are problems with their employers. Such approaches enable State tracking of migrants which, whilst used to text or notify of risks, can also compromise the privacy and data of the individual by revealing political or religious affiliation or personal relationships and creating a risk of transfer of data for commercial purposes.

Data collection:

  • Data can assist in detection, investigation and prosecution of smuggling and trafficking, and can assist in predicting crime patterns and anticipate activity for the purposes of crime prevention.
  • Collected data can enhance investigative cooperation at national and transnational levels, thus promoting data sharing and collaboration among law enforcement bodies.
  • Collection of personal data from those affected by trafficking and smuggling may go beyond that required specifically for a criminal investigation or mutual transnational assistance, compromising the privacy of trafficked or smuggled persons, including their personal data.
  • Access to data creates risks to safety and compromises the recovery of victims, including in the context of profiling.
  • Possession of data can create stigma, affecting integration into a societal environment and access to the labour market.
  • Depersonalization and anonymization and avoiding the registration of excessive information or centralized storage can be a financial burden, which can affect both investigation and protection.


  • Usage includes un-detectability from the persons under surveillance, flexibility in tasking and ability to facilitate border management and cover remote areas.
  • Maximized surveillance can raise serious privacy concerns regarding the individuals monitored. Not all jurisdictions recognize privacy in public spaces and when used at borders or urban areas they may capture images of legitimate operators who become the subject of recorded material and potential scrutiny.

It should also be noted that technology used to facilitate trafficking and smuggling can create privacy and data concerns (Gerry et al, 2016). For example, both traffickers and smugglers may track and monitor the activities of the victims/migrants by direct or remote interrogation of their phone. This can also provide access to a database of evidence. At the same time, the safety of an individual may be severely compromised. Removing technology can be disempowering, can transfer power and cause isolation.

An understanding of the OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data will facilitate learning in this context.

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