Friday, October 21, 2005

Information & Communication Technologies and Trafficking in Women

Not exactly up my usual Intellectual Property alley, but definitely of interest from the prespective of feminist engagement with technolgies, is Digital Dangers, a "discussion paper" that explores the connections between ICTs (information & communication technologies) and trafficking. The central concern of the paper is nicely summed up in the following two paragraphs:

The word ‘trafficking’ suggests something very physical. Stories of trafficking of women often include details of stolen passports, border crossings, and foreign countries. But what happens when a concept that suggests the actual movement of people is taken into the virtual world of the web? What happens when trafficking is combined with information and communication technologies (ICTs)?

It seems unlikely that whoever coined the term ‘information superhighway’ anticipated that the traffic on the internet would be in people, as well as information. How, and how much, the internet and other ICTs are implicated in trafficking is the subject of this paper.

The paper was published jointly by the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) and Association for Progressive Communications Women's Network Support Program (APCWNSP). I find it very interesting that this paper explores not only the use of ICTs in trafficking, traditionally deinfed (i.e. how email and other communications technologies are involved in taking women physically from one location to another), but also discusses the trasmission of women's images (explicit material distributed without knowledge or consent) as a form of trafficking women. The three "pivotal and at times controversial questions":

"Does the role of ICTs matter or is it a fashionable distraction from serious countertrafficking work? Can we talk of trafficking in images or does trafficking only apply to people? Is consideration of privacy in relation to ICTs contrary to counter-trafficking work or an essential part of a broader movement to create safety and freedom for individuals and communities?" (2)

These are hard questions. And even though it makes me nervous (considering the kind of work I do and the kind of research I am now becoming more interested in), I think it is good - necessary - for people to be wondering if these kinds of explorations are "fashionable distraction[s]," what are referred to elsewhere as "luxury and diversion" (2).

The conclusions reached in this paper are interesting and challenging - basically that a focus on the role of ICTs in trafficking places an undue focus on the technology, not the crime, and that insisting that ICTs be placed more centrally in the question of trafficking deemphasizes the role played by women (on the grounds that ICT experts then become the more widely consulted experts, and that these are mostly men, as opposed to those who are experts in trafficking of women and children).

That's the sum of it - but it's a paper I would encourage people to take the time and read. Very interesting.

- posted by laurie @ 10/21/2005 08:46:00 AM
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