August 17, 2023

To catch a criminal, an investigator must rely heavily on evidence, leads, and data to build a strong case leading to the perpetrator. The magnitude of the trafficking industry is unfathomable, so it is critical to conduct research on the evolving ways traffickers identify, transport, and sell victims. For Polaris, it undoubtedly relies heavily on a single channel to support essential data to supplement reports and trends made through the trafficking hotline.

It is likely that human trafficking victims will contact Polaris’ hotline first and foremost over other resources and expect to receive immediate help. Although Polaris has branded itself as a beacon of hope, it fails to publicly mention that it does not report all leads to law enforcement. Surprisingly, in March 2013 Polaris “learned of 9,000 survivors of trafficking and reported 3,235 cases of human trafficking to law enforcement.” That means that of the 9,000 survivors, only 36% were reported to law enforcement.

What is more shocking is that a staggering number of callers who connect with a hotline agent are expected to share sensitive information in order to receive help, despite the low percentage of reports submitted to law enforcement. These callers are not informed on why this level of detail is needed, nor what happens to their data. Examples of the type of details gathered through the hotline include: first and last name, birthday, age, where the caller is located, where the caller is living, who the caller’s trafficker is (if it is a direct victim), any associates, etc. But even with these details and descriptions of the crime, Polaris does not pass every incident to law enforcement. How, then, does Polaris determine when it is acceptable to pass reports to law enforcement, if the hotline was intended to be a safe haven for victims? Most importantly, what is Polaris doing with their information?

What the public may not know is that Polaris partnered with Palantir Technologies to manage its data repository. Palantir is a prominent technology firm known for its data mining and surveillance capabilities, which are frequently used in the intelligence and law enforcement communities. The whereabouts surrounding Polaris’ data collection and repository are very limited. Even more startling is that Polaris chose to work with a firm that has intimate connections to the intelligence and military communities. Furthermore, Palantir has an appalling track record when handling or safeguarding data. So, what should we know about Polaris’ data repository? And what was Palantir really hired to do?

A quick search on the web reveals very little about this partnership, partly due to Palantir strangely scrubbing any relations to this collaboration from its own blog. But the internet is a permanent record, and our research into the company and Polaris’ partnership raises concerns over Polaris’ legitimacy and its ability to fulfill its mission.

The History of Palantir Technologies

It is well known that Palantir is shrouded in secrecy. This is a company that has maintained a carefully crafted narrative while still being discrete as it continued to expand and win significantly large government contracts. Moreover, CEO Alex Karp, an unmistakable character, seemed like an odd selection to run Palantir given his lack of technological skills. But Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of Palantir, felt passionate about Karp. Ironically, this would not be the first unusual fact about Palantir.

In 2003, Palantir was founded by Thiel, the founder of Pay Pal, alongside with Stephen Cohen, Nathan Gettings, Joe Lonsdale, and Alex Karp. It is said that after 9/11, Thiel was compelled to build a tool that would aggregate all data – private details such as financial transactions, cell phone records, and travel records – to prevent terrorist attacks before they occurred. The idea gradually transformed into a data mining tool that would be targeted for use by intelligence and military agencies in the name of defense.

Initially, Palantir struggled to be taken seriously by the federal government while competing for the same contracts alongside established defense contractors. But one agency decided to take a chance in its idea, and it could not have been any better for Palantir: the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA was Palantir’s first client to beta test and help refine the product, thus further accelerating Palantir’s capabilities and competitive edge. Though this rare opportunity was a huge accomplishment for Palantir, its biggest win was the CIA becoming the company’s first investor, who invested roughly $2 million.

Palantir continued its focus on data driven solutions and decision-making software, later expanding to include AI solutions to its suite of products and services. With CIA product-approval, Palantir’s clientele rapidly grew to include Homeland Security, Airbus, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, FBI, and many more. Palantir was soon able to win several key contracts with the federal government, solidifying its footprint in the defense space.

Outside of federal government, Palantir partnered with a handful of non-profit clients, such as Thorn, WeProtect Global Alliance, and, of course, Polaris Project. One particular client that stood out from its portfolio is the National Center for Missing Exploited Children (NCMEC). What is unique out about this connection is that the same software that is used to find missing children at NCMEC is the same software used for anti-trafficking with Polaris. Is it possible that there could be data sharing between the two organizations?

In 2017, Polaris introduced the Data Analysis program through a partnership with Palantir Technologies, a data analysis firm whose biggest clients include the CIA, the U.S. military, and major banks like JP Morgan Chase, to build and manage its data solution. The connection was made through Bradley Myles, the former CEO of Polaris, who met with representatives while attending a Google Ideas conference. Since the data center’s launch, it has cost Polaris over $800,000 a year to operate and maintain.

Ironically, Palantir Technologies’ early investments were from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s venture capital arm In-Q-Tel. Palantir was also tied to the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal. Furthermore, Palantir Technologies software includes at least 12 groups within the U.S. government. While it is a firm that claims to provide robust software on data analytics and counterintelligence, why would Polaris partner with Palantir to collect data on trafficking victims and minors?

Palantir partnerships

According to Palantir, NCMEC was provided a data integration software that would scan through thousands of tips and reports regarding missing or exploited children, surface actionable intelligence to the NCMEC analyst, and send intel to law enforcement. Some of the tips and reports submitted would be images, and the software would use an algorithm to suggest possible patterns or links based on the data to link potential children to reports. When a “hit” (or in other words a match) was made, the analyst alerted law enforcement.

NCMEC’s Vice President John Shehan stated:

“It used to take days to weeks when dealing with cyber tip online reports and seeing offenders arrested. Now, with Palantir alerts, we’re talking hours from the time we receive the information to law enforcement making the arrest.”

Palantir’s partnership with NCMEC was announced in 2010 and can still be found on its site. Shortly after NCMEC, Palantir began a partnership with Polaris, a subtle but important detail that will be discussed later in this report. Interestingly, Palantir has scrubbed any reference of Polaris’ partnership from its site. Why? Such blog articles like “How Many Years a Slave” written by Palantir discussing the partnership are redirected to a 404 page.

Luckily, we were able to locate the original article as shown below.

This discovery appears rather unusual since Polaris appears to still be using Palantir’s software. Why would Palantir erase any public connection to Polaris? And when? Given the extraordinary capabilities Palantir’s products offer, it was important to examine the origins of this partnership to inform the arrangement, motive, and data solution overall.

The Genesis to the Polaris Data Analysis Program

In 2012, Bradley Myles, the former CEO of Polaris, attended a Google Ideas conference, and through mutual connections, Myles connected with Palantir representatives. It is unclear if Myles was intentionally seeking a data solution while at the conference, or if the connection and idea was spontaneous. But on May 7, 2013, Myles delivered a testimony to the Committee on Foreign Affairs describing the motive to move to a more robust data solution. He stated:

We learn new lessons from our work on the national hotline every day, and they enrich our initial understanding of hotlines from our earlier local hotlines work. Some of the key lessons include:

  • Hotlines concretely increase victim identification rates on a national scale.
  • Hotlines provide opportunities for millions more community members to participate in the anti-trafficking field because they can help with the effort to promote the hotline number or they can be the “eyes and ears” and look out for opportunities to call.
  • Hotlines cannot be run like an island. Quite the contrary, hotlines need to have a deep and wide network of referral relationships and partnerships that leverage the strengths of local actors in the field.

He proceeded to describe the necessities of using the data collected through the hotline to detect trafficking trends and patterns:

“Each one of these tips contains highly relevant information about understanding the behavior of traffickers and how they exploit their victims. Hotlines therefore are in a unique position to gain strategic insights about effective interventions because hotlines often receive thousands of calls with information about where trafficking is happening and to whom. By adding in a data analysis component, hotlines can identify the newest trends and patterns and then communicate those to the most relevant actors in the field who can use this information to fight the crime.”

Myles later revealed to the committee that in order to disrupt the trafficking market, all global hotlines must share data and centralize the information in order to build a more sophisticated tool to fulfill the mission of eradicating and preventing human trafficking while protecting the innocent. This initiative was called the Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network, which Google funded and supported. Polaris also joined forces with Palantir, who provided the software and expertise on synthesizing and analyzing data.

Data is an intricate but critical utility in the technology space. With enough metadata and user history, systems can describe user behaviors, tell stories, and even predict future actions before they occur (i.e., Artificial Intelligence). So, how does Palantir’s software work with Polaris’ data solution?

In the article entitled “Palantir Now Fighting Human Traffickers, Instead of the U.S. Army” written by Foreign Policy, Polaris uses “…Palantir’s software to identify patterns in information about traffickers and victims that are gathered by anti-trafficking hotlines around the globe. Basically, Palantir lets Polaris take information other anti-trafficking groups receive and put it into one large database — making it easier to connect cases of trafficking, map trends, and create plans to combat trafficking operations in a specific area. All of this gives non-technical people a ‘view of the world as discrete objects, relationships and their describing data,’ according to the firm’s website.”

Upon Polaris announcing its collaboration, Palantir shared its involvement in the partnership on its since-deleted blog post. On April 3, 2013, Palantir wrote:

Polaris ProjectLiberty Asia, and La Strada International are recipients of a $3 million-dollar Global Impact Award given by Google to support nonprofit organizations that use technology to initiate disruptive solutions in their sector. 

“Together, these organizations are launching the Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network, an initiative seeded by Google Ideas to share data and improve coordination between local hotline efforts. Palantir is please to announce our collaboration with Polaris Project, improving the network’s ability to manage and analyze the large amounts of disparate data culled from its human trafficking hotline.

“…The donation of our analytical software platform—with built-in privacy and civil liberties safeguards—as well as our ongoing training and support augments Polaris’ existing efforts to disrupt illicit trafficking networks and provide much-needed assistance to victims.”

Furthermore, Palantir described how the product would optimize operations:

“Polaris Project uses Palantir Gotham to leverage the data from nearly 100,000 calls. NHTRC may collect up to 170 different quantitative and qualitative variables per case record. These data originate from disparate sources—calls, emails, SMS, online tip reports, and publicly available information about trafficking. By integrating this data into a single platform, along with their national referral database of 3000 contacts that includes anti-trafficking organizations, legal service providers, shelters, coalitions, task forces, law enforcement, and social service agencies, Polaris can locate emergency response resources and identify critical services for victims of trafficking in a matter of seconds.”

In March 2013, Polaris went live with the initiative. In the non-profit world, it is inconceivable to gain significant support and funding from a large tech giant like Google and acquire an innovative software from an emerging tech startup like Palantir to aid in fulfilling a unified goal. This story would seem like a fairytale for any struggling non-profit organization desperately trying to access technologies and funds with the hopes of further accomplishing its mission. But even some fairytales cannot be believed.

The Initiatives, Associations, and Scandals Involving Palantir

Despite its advancements in the technology, nonprofit, and government sectors, Palantir’s track record has been littered with scandals involving privacy breaches, mass surveillance, and political meddling. And yet, Palantir always seems to walk away unscathed. Here are a few examples:

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

It’s one thing to perform contractual work with the CIA. It’s another when the contractor is heavily invested by its client. We would be remised to say that it is not suspicious that Palantir’s origins has ties to the CIA. In-Q-Tel, a venture capitalist firm, is essentially a business extension of the CIA. Not only does In-Q-Tel invest in small startups, it controls many of the investment decisions for these startups.

In-Q-Tel can receive funds from other agencies, such as the National Security Agency (NSA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Defense Department, to invest in innovative technologies useful for national security. But the CIA remains as In-Q-Tel’s main source. Though In-Q-Tel does not disclose successful investments, through its support Palantir was able to build a company with a market capitalization at $32 billion (as of June 2023).

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Probably its most controversial work to-date, Palantir helped DHS on numerous projects, including: FALCON, a proprietary version made to replicate Palantir’s Gotham software product; and Investigative Case Management (ICM) System, a modernized version of ICE’s legacy system TECS that was designed to interface with other systems within and between departments.

Palantir’s partnership with DHS’ Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division began in 2011. HSI’s core mission includes a variety of transnational crimes, one of which is to combat human trafficking and child exploitation. In recent years, Palantir came under fire as reports emerged that ICM and FALCON were interfacing with other agency databases and exchanging sensitive information, some of which have led to national coverage involving deportations. Despite these revelations, Palantir and DHS continued to do business.

In 2022, DHS renewed its contract with Palantir, awarding the company $95.5 million over a five-year period.

JP Morgan Chase

In 2009, JP Morgan Chase partnered with Palantir to leverage its software to institute stringent measures that would servile potentially dishonest traders. The former security chief, Peter Cavicchia III, quietly worked with a number of Palantir engineers to have his security team collect various records on the bank’s top executives. These records included emails, browser history, transcripts of phone conversations, and GPS locations. Cavicchia was later caught, prompting an internal investigation, and forcing his resignation in 2013. This incident, however, did not affect Palantir’s relationship with the global bank. As of March 31, 2023, JP Morgan Chase invested in Palantir by purchasing roughly 536,000 shares of Palantir stock, also with the intention to leverage AI in banking.

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook

In 2018, allegations emerged stating Cambridge Analytica accessed and improperly handled over 50 million Facebook users without users’ consent. While the media coverage focused on Cambridge Analytica and its influence in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, it was alleged that Palantir was working with Cambridge Analytica and harvesting Facebook user data. There was no binding contract between Palantir and Facebook.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

At the height of the pandemic, Palantir worked with CDC “to model the potential spread of the virus.” CDC staffers were regular users of Palantir’s web app, which visualized “the spread of the virus” and anticipated hospital needs. Palantir also worked with the U.K. government on a similar data analysis. In December 2022, Palantir was awarded a five year $443 million contract to streamline other programs involving Palantir — Health and Human Services (HHS) Protect, Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Engage, Tiberius, and DCIPHER.

Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)

In 2020, reports revealed Palantir’s partnership with LAPD and how it created one of the most controversial databases, which was none other than a massive police surveillance system containing details from the DMV, license plate information, addresses, names, associates, etc. The report also revealed that similar data-sharing agreements were made between LAPD and other institutions and departments, such as California police departments, universities, school districts and airport police, which transferred data into the Palantir’s software.

Ukrainian Government

Shortly after the war in Ukraine began in 2022, Palantir established operations to help the Ukrainian government make real-time battlefield decisions using artificial intelligence. The use of Palantir’s software was initially intended to “help resettle Ukrainian refugees to the UK, Lithuania and Poland.” The scope expanded to then include military operations as the war continued. Similar operations using Palantir’s software were used in Afghanistan “to make decisions and more effectively target and kill enemy combatants.” Ukraine is not being charged for use of Palantir’s services.

The Clinton Foundation

Palantir worked with the Clinton’s on the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on disaster relief and portfolio trends. The supposed connection was initiated by Haim Saban, a media mogul, who emailed John Podesta, who at the time was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief. According to email records, Palantir CEO Karp did not work with any political campaigns with the exception of one he was interested in: Hillary Clinton.

Why are these details essential? Because what appears to be isolated events may actually be a trend going unnoticed. Although, this list of initiatives, associations, or scandals surrounding Palantir is not comprehensive, it is an alarming track record nonetheless, and it does not seem that Polaris and Palantir’s collaboration was by coincidence. What exactly was Bradley Myles, and other Polaris executives, trying to achieve by using such a controversial tool? Disparate systems interfacing with each other to collect more data can be an added benefit for organizations looking to obtain more holistic data visualizations and patterns. But, if the safety of the victims and callers are a concern, why aren’t callers informed about how their personal information is handled and how it is used? Additionally, who has access to it?

Dissecting the Polaris Reports

Each year, Polaris is revered as the organization with the leading statistical data in human trafficking. We are told to believe that Polaris, being the single source of truth, would help eradicate trafficking by detecting trends and sharing these analyses with other organizations, law enforcement, and stakeholders so that respective parties can respond adequately.

But there are several issues with Polaris’ data set, and we certainly are not the first ones to question the validity of it. The most notable article to single out anti-trafficking organizations and the statistics they share was the 2015 article “Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti-Human Trafficking NGOs” by Anne Elizabeth Moore. Moore investigated roughly 50 prominent organizations who aligned their missions or goals of either eradicating or bringing awareness to human trafficking and found that many did not fulfill their mission, including Polaris. Moore stated:

“With names reliant on metaphors of recovery, light and sanctuary, anti-trafficking groups project an image of transparency. Yet these groups have shown a remarkable lack of fiscal accountability and organizational consistency, often even eschewing an open acknowledgement of board members, professional affiliates and funding relationships.”

“…One organization addressed below, the Polaris Project, would seem to justify the narrow focus on the sex trade, claiming to have received calls to the hotline of their National Human Trafficking Resource Center reporting 2,740 cases of sex trafficking in 2013, compared to 634 reporting labor trafficking. Yet since Polaris and many other organizations are heavily invested in ‘raising awareness’ of the potential for human trafficking in what may well be benign or legal situations, there’s no telling how accurate their findings are.”

Moore then questions the dubious data collected by these organizations. She found it difficult to pinpoint exactly how these numbers were derived and how accurate they were:

Numbers throughout the murky world of human trafficking are notoriously hard to verify. How many traffickers? Uncountable! How many victims? So many! How old are they? Too young! How much money changes hands? Zillions upon gajillions of dollars, daily! ‘Scarily lucrative,’ Time declared it in a May 2014 headline. Sound unbelievable? It is, and aid groups will claim it’s because the unvarnished truth of human slavery is incomprehensible to most living Americans today.

“...The DC-based Polaris Project, with a $7.3 million budget, is slightly more careful to word unverified statements, but rarely offers any corroboration. ‘In street-based sex trafficking, victims are often expected to earn a nightly quota,’ one reads, ‘ranging from $500 to $1,000 or more, which is confiscated by the pimp. Women in brothels disguised as massage businesses typically live on-site where they are coerced into providing commercial sex to 6 to 10 men a day, 7 days a week.’ The uses of ‘often’ and ‘typical’ are cues that the numbers are shady, but the only resource cited on the page is Polaris’ own National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which makes no claims regarding sex work earnings or numbers of clients. The ‘nightly quota’ may have come from The Urban Institute, which notes that 18 percent of the pimps they spoke to in major US cities set quotas between $400 and $1,000 per night. But most of the pimps they spoke to didn’t set quotas and sex workers often distinguish certain pimps from traffickers in the first place.”

Moore expressed deep concerns surrounding the legitimacy of these organizations and whether they were serving the very people who needed help the most. Ultimately, she presented enough evidence to suggest that the amount of money these anti-trafficking organizations rake in does not translate to the documented figures allocated towards services or support for trafficking victims:

“Of the 50 anti-trafficking organizations examined, a total of 19 disclosed recent annual budgets of $1 million or more, most in 2012 or 2013. (Only the Association for the Recovery of Children’s financial data is from earlier – 2007 – and was extremely difficult to track down.) Many organizations pulled in more; in fact, the total combined earnings from those 19 organizations were more than $677.5 million. The remaining organizations that made financial data available, combined, took in more than $8 million. Presuming that each of the nine organizations that make no financial disclosures earn less than $50,000 per year – say, $40,000 (and only two disclosing organizations made under this amount, so this seems low but plausible) – we can add another $360,000 to this total. (This number is certainly an underestimate, as many of the non-reporting organizations have more than one employee, so likely pull in more than $50,000 per year; surely, the three public-private partnerships have larger annual budgets.) This suggests the approximate annual income of $686 million split among the 50 groups.It may not seem like much, for 50 organizations spread across a giant country, working on what may be one of the most pressing human rights issues of our day. Yet $686 million breaks down to about $13.7 million per group, per year – money most organizations of any size would be thrilled to get their hands on. And this amount doesn’t include federal funds spent to fight human trafficking, rumored to be between $1.2 and $1.5 billion per year.”

“…Given the $686 million anti-trafficking budget shared by 50 of the most prominent organizations (which doesn’t count federal costs), this breaks down to an average budget of $343,000 per case – certainly enough to secure each victim a safe place to live for at least a year. Yet a 2013 report found only 682 beds available, nationwide, to victims of trafficking, with another 354 more planned for 2014.”

Polaris Reports

Now, let’s examine some of Polaris’ available reports. Remember, the source that drives the data is the hotline, and yet testimonies from both internal staff and callers suggest the hotline is chronically inefficient and understaffed. Callers have also noted long wait times (2+ hour waits) to speak with an advocate; some callers never connect with an advocate and simply give up. This strongly suggests that the volume of data collected, or even the sample size, is significantly smaller (and possibly manipulated) if the number of unsuccessful attempts is higher than the number of successful connections. According to Polaris, only calls successfully connected are counted towards their metrics.

One statement that immediately stood out in Polaris’ 2020 report is a disclaimer describing the data and the hotline. The report states:

This data should not be mistaken for the prevalence of human trafficking in North America over a given year. The data only reflects contacts with the Trafficking Hotline, which Polaris operates in cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Trafficking Hotline exists first and foremost to serve victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking. Information is gathered only to the extent that it is necessary to provide that service. Because each situation is unique, so to are the questions answered and answers recorded. It is impossible to know how many other situations of trafficking or exploitation are occurring that are never reported, nor does that Trafficking Hotline know the outcome of these situations or if they ultimately meet the legal definition of trafficking.

Similar language was used in their 2019 report.

(For the purpose of this investigation, our analysis below only included the 2019 report.)

The 2019 data represented in the report is documented for one full calendar year. Polaris noted that in 2019, 22,326 victims and survivors were identified. At an initial glance, this appears like a reasonably large number, but after further comparing this data set to other national hotlines, the differences are shocking.

Figure 1: Polaris Project Data Report Year 2019

In Figure 1, the first page of the 2019 Data Report above, the “Contact from Victims and Survivors Themselves” bar graph shows rapid increases in the number of contacts from victims and survivors. What is unclear is if there are repeat contacts? If so, is this documented in Polaris’ system? What measures does Polaris take if these victims/survivors are repeat contacts? How does Polaris track calls that don’t go through?

Next, the colorful chevron graph at the bottom of figure 1, illustrates the total number of situations of human trafficking identified.

Figure 2: Polaris Project Data Report Year 2019

On the second page (Figure 2. Second Page of the 2019 Data Report), Polaris noted receiving over 48,000 contacts. Polaris discreetly uses the term “contacts” but does not indicate these as “calls”.

Finally, a skilled data analyst will also notice that Polaris call metrics have been obscured behind percentages instead of displaying actual numbers. Percentages can be useful at times to show dramatic changes, but they can also be deceitful to embellish the truth to avoid telling the real story. The accurate way to view statistical data is to view the whole numbers in conjunction with percentages.

For instance, if only 2 calls made to the hotline were successful out of a total of 3 calls in one day, the success rate for calls connected would be 66.6%. Now, let’s take a larger data set. Let’s say a call center received 1,000 calls in a single day and 656 of those calls were successfully connected. The percentage then would be 65.6%. The percentages from both of the examples are identical, but the actual numbers provided the additional context needed to know the real story and volume.

Figure 3: Polaris Project Data Report Year 2019

We’d like to also bring attention to a very short and vague privacy policy, concerning data protection with a focal point to donors. For the interest of victims calling into the hotline, it would be ideal to know how exactly their personal details are processed and stored.

Hotline Comparison

Let’s take a look at another hotline that is more transparent – the National Domestic Hotline. This hotline has the exact conditions as the trafficking hotline, including:

  • A 24 hour national hotline.
  • A population requiring immediate needs.

The similarities, however, stop there. Here are the differences between the two.

Figure 4: Second page of the National Domestic Violence Hotline 2020 Impact Report

On the first page (Figure 4. First page of the National Domestic Hotline), the National Domestic Hotline report explicitly defines a “contact”. It also notes how many contacts were received based on the contact method. Finally, it explicitly shows how many calls/chats/texts were received and how many were answered. Out of the total received in 2020, the hotline was able to answer 57% of those contacts.

Moreover, it is clear to the reader how the hotline is performing year-over-year and within a given year. These are the types of basic questions that should be answered and not solely concealed behind percentages.

Finally, the National Domestic Violence report is able to distinguish who is calling the hotline, the age, additional demographic details, and other pertinent details to help dissect and understand trends in abuse and the various types. These details are invaluable to consumers of this report because there are clear patterns noted through the calls, prompting clear, actionable decisions.

Figure 5: Second page of the National Domestic Violence Hotline

It is shocking, to say the least, that a large organization such as Polaris who runs the national hotline and oversees the global hotline can receive substantial amounts of donations and funding, collaborate closely with technology leaders in the industry, establish a sophisticated data repository costing on average over $800,000 a year and still fail to produce action-driven outcomes towards its mission of anti-trafficking.

What Polaris leadership (knowingly) fails to understand is that this data would help law enforcement expedite cases, link possible victims to a trafficker or multiple traffickers and take rings down, if that is in fact what Polaris wants. This data would offer smaller, non-profit organizations fighting the same goals the ability to refine their strategies, services, and support for local victims based on noticeable trends. This data, if it was fully disclosed, would bring awareness to the public so that it would promote more activism towards anti-trafficking and ensure the safety of all victims, especially children. But Polaris continues to seemingly starve stakeholders and recipients with weak statistics and little perceivable action.

So, if the depth of the data is limited to a select few, then who? Who is accessing the data? What are these actors trying to monitor? Are data sets being manipulated to conceal something more nefarious? Is Polaris interfacing with other systems outside of its ecosystem that the public isn’t aware of? Or rather, is Polaris acting as a front to something else?

The ones who are hurt the most by this are the trafficking victims. They are already in a vulnerable state where survival is paramount. Calling a hotline should not have to be a stressful experience, and it certainly should not be a data collection tool with the intention of surveilling or conducting other backdoor motives. The victims have every right to know how their data is collected and used, otherwise Polaris has failed in providing the one thing every victims seek to regain: Trust.

If you or a loved one were disappointed or underwhelmed by the National Human Trafficking Hotline and would like to communicate your experience, please email us at tips@countertraffickingalliance.com.