Combatting Human Trafficking Using DNA Databases Across National Boundaries
Published: December 6, 2018
Using DNA to combat human trafficking and identify missing persons across borders is not only a data analysis challenge, but a complex legal and diplomatic issue. Barring criminality, most people have the right to be “missing,” and may have valid motives to stay hidden. A political issue is that many nations are not inclined to share data with investigators in other countries under principles of sovereignty and protecting the privacy of their own citizens. Child trafficking was the common ground to break down barriers to collaboration, since most societies agree that the State has a compelling interest in the welfare of children. The Latin American migratory corridor has been an initial focus. Many computational obstacles to large-scale, DNA-based identification of missing persons were addressed more than fifteen years ago with the 9-11 attacks. 2749 people from 90 countries were killed at the World Trade Center; Most of the identified were named via kinship analysis, using DNA from multiple family members. That technology has been repurposed to investigate missing persons cases, to fight human trafficking, and for general criminalistics. Over the last two years, resources have focused on creating harmonized, collaborative, independent DNA databases to investigate los desaparecidos and trafficked persons across Latin America and into the Southern USA. The DNA-ProKids project at University of Granada set standards that have been applied to efforts in countries including Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico.