Scant research or policy attention to date has focused on the issue of mobile phone use in DMST.The intersection of mobility, digital technologies, and minor sex trafficking brings new challenges and opportunities that require careful research and analysis.The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools.” This decision calls into question the privacy protection associated with pre-paid devices.Given the potential of disposable mobile phones to facilitate human trafficking and need to balance regulatory and privacy concerns, further research in this area is advised.
According to a local law enforcement officer interviewed, “the existence of multiple phones is not uncommon” in sex trafficking operations. The officer goes on to explain that both contract phones and disposable phones are used by traffickers; a recent arrest of a trafficker involved in DMST turned up four “burners” and one personal phone. Pre-paid, pay-as-you-go, and disposable phones are cellular phones purchased without a long-term contract and with service and features paid for up-front.For example, technology-facilitated sex trafficking networks often rely upon the anonymity or contrived identities of victims and traffickers in order to operate. According to Samantha Doerr, public affairs manager at Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit: “Child sex trafficking is simply a very different problem than other technology-facilitated child sexual exploitation …We need to look at the methods and language used for advertising—how johns go about searching, the use of mobile phones in child sex trafficking, and how a transaction is coordinated.” Although the field of technology forensics is exploring ways to disrupt human trafficking online by using trace data to identify perpetrators, mobile technology is already shifting the spaces from which we can collect those traces.This differs from the traditional billing arrangement, whereby subscribers enter into contracts with mobile network operators and are billed monthly for their usage. These post-paid mobile contracts are normally tied to individual cellular phone serial numbers. The contract involved with the post-paid billing method might make this arrangement undesirable or unavailable to some potential users.Those without established credit, for example, may be unable to purchase a mobile phone or phone service. In addition, consumers may only wish to use a cellular phone for a limited period of time, without “incur[ring] the monthly costs for the usage and service.” Because pre-paid mobile phones and services do not require a contract, personal identification, or credit check for purchase, they have been described as “one of the last remaining anonymous communication tools.” As with all technologies, the implications are both positive and negative.