Richmond Journal of Law and Technology

The first exclusively online law review.

Month: January 2015

Blog: How Technology is Helping Catch Child Sex Traffickers

traffickingBy: Bradford Schulz, Associate Staff

Drugs.  Guns.  Trafficking.  Human trafficking is the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world.[1]  Specifically, sex trafficking is the fastest-growing enterprise in the world.[2]  It is estimated that 60% of all human trafficking victims were trafficked for sexual purposes, and the FBI has reported that cases of sex trafficking involving children are increasing.[3]  In fact, it is estimated by the State Department that a third of teens, 150,000 annually, who run away from home are trafficked within 48 hours.[4]  “Lisa” (fictional name for J.S. in State v. Hopson) was one of these children who ran away from home and got caught up in sex trafficking.[5]

In March 2010, a 15-year old Lisa left home so that she could “find herself.”  In an effort to make enough money to drive to California, Lisa prostituted herself out for Mr. Hopson.[6]  Hopson taught Lisa how to handle payments, how to check if a customer was a police officer, and how to avoid identification.[7]  In addition, Hopson posted daily advertisements on “” which often showed Lisa posing on pool tables.[8] has developed a nationwide online reputation as a sex prostitution marketplace.[9]

In September 2010, a 13-year old “Briana” (fictional name for S.L.) ran away from home and was picked up by traffickers.[10]  The sex traffickers dressed Briana in lingerie, took photos of her, and posted her advertisements on  It is a similar story for “Tasha” (fictional name for L.C.) who also had photographs of her taken while wearing skimpy clothing, and was featured in online advertisements.[11]  All girls were prostituted and raped via online advertisement brokering. is an online marketplace (i.e. Craigslist), that also includes “escort” sections that solicit advertising of escort services.  The website is organized by geographic locations to help filter searchers to nearby services.  It is argued that uses the term “escort” in order to provide listings of prostitution and sex trafficking sale advertisements with some deniability.[12] provides posting rules and lists content requirements that prohibit the use of profanity, graphic images, or the collaboration of illegal services and trafficking.  However, a trial court noted that almost every advertisement post in the “escort” section violates’s posting and content rules.[13]  In an effort to minimize child sex trafficking, the three victims are attempting to shut down because it hosted their pimps’ escort solicitation. argues that its website is protected by free speech and § 230 of the Communications Decency Act.[14]  The CDA was written to protect internet sites, such as Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, Youtube, and Craigslist, from liability of content posted by third parties.  The statute states that “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher of any information provided by another information content provider.”[15]  So the question is, does CDA § 230 immunize websites from liability for third-party content even though “the unlawful nature of information provided is not enough to make it the [website’s] own speech.”[16] is more than allowing third-party flagrant free speech on its website; it is arguably facilitating the pimping of under age children.  The real question is not whether is protected by free speech but whether their actions go beyond speech.  This issue is up for consideration by the Supreme Court of Washington State.[17]

In addition to litigation, groups focused on stopping child sex trafficking have established the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child-Rescue Corps.  HERO is a program developed by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to provide wounded special operations forces training in computer forensics and law enforcement.[18]  The goal of HERO is to incorporate special op wounded soldiers into the law enforcement effort to stop online child sex trafficking by supplementing their skill set with computer forensic training (“image and process digital media,… assisting investigators in identifying “high-value targets and locate child victims”).[19]  By utilizing their military training, coupled with advanced computer forensics, ICE hopes that the HERO operatives will be able to help track down victims and help prosecute child sex traffickers.

Technology in various forms is at the forefront of the child sex trafficking issue.
Just as technology and online websites streamline “escort” business, so too will technology help facilitate the prosecution of child sex traffickers.


[1] The UN Refuge Agency, Conference puts focus on Human Trafficking, fastest Growing Criminal Industry, (Oct. 11, 2010),

[2] FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: Human Sex Trafficking, Mar. 2011, sex trafficking.

[3] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Report on Trafficking in Persons at 35 (2012); Traff1ckinR in Persons Report, 2013 U.S. Dep’t of State Ann. Rep. 382-83.

[4] Online and Anonyrnous: New Challenges to Prosecuting Sex Trafficking (NPR radio broadcast Aug. 3, 2013), (available at (“Online and Anonymous”)).

[5] State v. Hopson, 170 Wash. App. 1012 (2012).

[6] Id.

[7] Id

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Brief of Respondents, Village Voice Media Holdings, L.L.C. and v. J.S., S.L., and L.C., No. 90510-0, Supreme Court of the State of Washington.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Verbatim Report of Proceedings, 49: 14- 50: 12.

[14] 47 U.S.C. § 230.

[15] 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1).

[16] Universal Commc ‘n Sys., Inc. v. Lycos, Inc., 478 F.3d 413, 420 (1st Cir. 2007).

[17] Brief of Petitioners, Village Voice Media Holdings, L.L.C. and v. J.S., S.L., and L.C., No. 90510-0, Supreme Court of the State of Washington.

[18] U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, HERO Child-Rescue Corps Program,

[19] Id.

Blog: Is it a Bird? A Plane? No, it's a Drone

By: Arianna White, Associate Staff

As a child, I spent many afternoons with my father and his two helicopter-enthusiast brothers.  We would go to the park and launch remote controlled helicopters and rockets in to the sky.  We flew the large, complex kind of helicopters that could drop packages from great heights and do flips while in the air.  Although craft helicopters are less in vogue today than they were twenty years ago, other small-scale flying devices have recently returned to popular consciousness.  I’m talking, of course, about drones.

When thinking about drones, many people imagine their military application.  Otherwise known as predator drones and Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), these machines are used to perform precise strikes of enemy targets.[1]  The use of these drones relies on information gathered by intelligence agencies to identify targets, and a remote operator who controls the drone’s movements.[2]

Beyond their common conception, however, the term drone refers to a larger class of Unmanned Aircraft Systems that have both public and private applications in the United States.[3]  Many Police departments, like the New York City Police Department, use drones to survey the public under the pretext that drones are intended to “check out people to make sure no one is… doing anything illegal.”[4]

Corporations and personal enterprises have also determined that drones can serve in varied, but important roles.  Amazon, for example, is interested in using drones for package delivery and has asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to develop and test a drone program.[5]  While the FAA has yet to issue the necessary license to Amazon, the company persists in its request that the agency permit its use of drones.[6]

Mexican drug cartels have also developed drones to deliver packages, although their program follows a decidedly less legal route than Amazon’s.[7]  On January 19, 2015, a drone carrying nearly six pounds of methamphetamine crashed in a Mexican city along the Mexico-US border.[8]  In early 2015, a South Carolina man received a fifteen-year prison sentence for his attempt to deliver contraband to a South Carolina Prison.[9]  The crashed drone carried marijuana, cell phones and tobacco on to the prison’s grounds, although the delivery was never received by any of the prison’s inmates.[10]

Given the proliferation of unmanned aircraft, both sophisticated and home made, the FAA lacks a sophisticated policy that effectively regulates their use.  While the “current FAA policy allows recreational drone flights in the U.S.[, it] essentially bars drones from commercial use.”[11]  Although industry analysts expected the FAA to publish its proposed rules by the end of 2014 and begin the notice and comment period, the agency did not meet that goal.[12]  In fact, Gerald Dillingham, the GAO ‘s director of civil aviation said that the “consensus of opinion is the integration of unmanned systems will likely slip from the mandated deadline [and not be finalized] until 2017 or even later.”[13]

During the 112th legislative session, Congress passed the FAA Modernization Act of 2012.[14]  The act was designed to, among other non-drone-related purposes, “encourage the acceleration of unmanned aircraft programs in U.S. airspace.”[15]  Agency guidelines, in place since 1981, currently control the use of personal unmanned aircraft.[16]  Of these, individuals are prohibited from “flying above 400 feet, near crowds, beyond the line of sight or within five miles of an airport.”[17]  These types of guidelines seem reasonable and appropriate to regulate small scale, personal model aircraft and drone use.

However, there is a glaring need for federal policy that addresses and regulates the commercial use of drones.  In the absence of such a policy, local governments have begun to fill the gaps that the FAA left behind.  According to the New York Times, “At least 35 states and several municipalities have introduced legislation to restrict the use of drones in some way.”[18]  These different laws serve various functions, including governing the permissible police uses of drones, defining what type of use constitutes unlawful surveillance, and determining the punishments allowable for violations of the particular law.[19]  By allowing individual local governments to determine their own rules, in the absence of a federal standard, the FAA has missed the opportunity to both promote nationwide responsible drone use and ensure their safe, uniform use across the country.  While other countries, like Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom have already begun enacting laws that allow commercial use of drones,[20] the United States is still stuck in 2012.




[3] Federal Aviation Administration. Unmanned Aircraft Systems.


















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