An updated mobile application designed by undergraduates in Georgia Tech's College of Computing on behalf of Airline Ambassadors International could drastically reduce human trafficking through airlines by giving flight attendants necessary tools to effectively pinpoint threats and tip off authorities.
First developed in 2015, the application, called TIP Line, received a needed update from students working in Georgia Tech’s CS Junior Design class, making reporting to authorities faster and more reliable by bringing trained users directly into contact with local law enforcement at the destination airport rather than relying on largely unreliable national hotlines.
TIP Line leverages trained airline professionals who have graduated from the AAI C-TIP (Counter-Trafficking in Persons) training class and been given a registration key to use the app, ensuring that law enforcement will take any tip from the app seriously.
Instead of making tips to one of over 190 global national hotlines, many of which only function during local work hours and also suffer from a high rate of false reporting, TIP Line’s trained reporters are automatically brought into contact with the correct authorities, many of whom have also taken the peer-to-peer training class with the airline personnel.
TIP Line challenges the state of the art in reporting human trafficking by air because of its peer-to-peer and time sensitive nature, as well as its capabilities in providing a data rich format that allows video, photo, voice, and text to be anonymously transmitted to assigned law enforcement in real time.
According to the International Labor Organization, forced labor and human trafficking is estimated to be more than a $150 billion industry, of which there are 40.3 million victims. In Atlanta alone, the sex trade is thought to generate $290 million annually. In Dallas, the total is over $350 million.
“Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing activities in transnational crime,” said William Cheng, one of the Georgia Tech students who worked on the app. “However, it has a weakness. When a human trafficker is transporting a victim in the air, the favored method of transport, they become vulnerable because they are in a public location surrounded by airport security and an unwilling victim. With this vulnerability in mind, our team aims to drastically reduce trafficking by giving flight attendants the proper tools to recognize and report.”
The app allows a user to choose who to contact with the information. A geo-location function can help decide which phone number is appropriate, or users can select a destination airport to find the best contact in the app’s database. If a different authority is required, users can scroll through a list of available numbers also stored in the database.
“There is a growing global trend in the airline industry for reporting to appropriate airport police and not national tip lines,” said David Rivard, a member of the AAI board and the organization’s liaison with the Georgia Tech team. “Interpol, for example, has a new program called AIRCop that makes available to signatory airports its 24-7 crime database for identification of perpetrators for all things trafficking.”
Then, those reporting are given the option to provide a description, video, audio, or photo as evidence to the local authority, giving them additional information to discern the threat and how to apprehend the perpetrator and victim.
“Perhaps most importantly, an app reporting solution creates a concerned citizens network, which is most important for combatting crime networks,” Rivard said. “TIP Line Version 2.0 (the current version) collects data and can distill it into actionable intelligence.”
Currently, this version of the app is being used by over 7,000 trainees – airline flight crews, airport staffs, and others – who can monitor over 168,000,000 passengers each year and is a model for other transport services like Uber who seek to add similar services into their applications.
The TIP team, as the Georgia Tech students are affectionately called, aims to present the app to Interpol in hopes of further integrating it with enforcement agencies and, eventually, taking it beyond just human trafficking.
“In terms of reporting, especially in the time-critical air transport environment, we can no longer afford to live in the telephone age,” Rivard said.
The Georgia Tech students – Cheng, Kenta Kawaguchi, Kyle Al-Shafei, Micah Jo, and Heather Schirra – were connected with the program through School of Interactive Computing Professor Emeritus Jim Foley, who heard through a colleague that AAI was utilizing a rudimentary first version of the app that needed improvements. Cheng and Schirra are currently continuing work on the app.
TIP Line is available to trained users on iPhone and Android.