Investigating and prosecuting human trafficking and migrant smuggling in the digital age: UNODC facilitates a workshop on electronic evidence

9 February 2023, Islamabad – Widespread growth of internet bandwidth and online users has opened Pakistan to new business, cultural and social opportunities. However, the infinite benefits of being digitally connected also come with a high risk. The digital world is like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, for 83 million users in Pakistan, it offers opportunities for knowledge, employment and keeping connected with friends and families across the globe. At the same time, it can also be misused for unlawful purposes, including hunting, fishing, and recruiting potential trafficking victims, producing and sharing offensive content and controlling victims, underlined Syed Arslan, Advisor of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) during the opening of the Requesting Electronic Evidence in Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Cases workshop.

Organized in Islamabad from 7 to 8 February 2023, under the framework of the Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants – Asia and the Middle East (GLO.ACT Asia and the Middle East), and in collaboration with Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the two-day workshop hosted 21 law enforcement operators, including one female, representing police from Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority as well as human smuggling (HTMS), cybercrimes and financial monitoring units of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). 

New realities and the growing use of the internet by human traffickers and smugglers necessitate law enforcement to recalibrate traditional investigation strategies while making the best use of technology in collecting evidence. “The role of electronic evidence cannot be overemphasized. Thanks to new technologies, traffickers see no physical barriers in recruiting and exploiting victims. In 2022 alone, 115 of 187 requests received by our division for forensic data analysis were human trafficking and migrant smuggling-related,” stated Imran Mahmood, Director, Cybercrime division, FIA. “That is why business as usual and overreliance on victims’ testimony is no longer fitting. Instead, a stronger focus shall be placed on the use of electronic evidence,” he concluded.

However, it is not enough for law enforcement operators to simply utilize digital intelligence in their investigations of human trafficking and migrant smuggling cases. Working with electronic evidence must be supplemented by knowledge and understanding of proper channels and procedures involved in collecting, handling, and lawfully processing electronic evidence while ensuring respect for human rights and the admissibility of evidence in a court of law.

Against this background and to boost the digital competency of officers investigating human trafficking and migrant smuggling cases, the workshop kicked off with a detailed analysis of international and national legal frameworks addressing the crimes, electronic evidence and human rights, as well as the importance of timely data preservation and sending requests to overseas service providers for voluntary and emergency disclosure. To ensure active engagement and knowledge retention, each theoretical session was followed by a practical exercise where participants were given an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the law enforcement guidelines of various overseas service providers and fill out model forms.

To improve direct cooperation with service providers and thus facilitate access to digital evidence, representatives of Meta and joined the workshop online and, after presenting the law enforcement guidelines of their respective companies, engaged in interactive discussions with the participants.

The Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants – Asia and the Middle East (GLO.ACT-Asia and the Middle East) is a four-year joint initiative by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), implemented in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in five countries: the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (Afghanistan), the Islamic Republic of Iran (I.R. of Iran), the Republic of Iraq (Iraq), the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Pakistan). GLO.ACT-Bangladesh is a parallel initiative supported by the EU and IOM.

The project builds on a global community of practice set in motion in GLO.ACT 2015-2019 and assists governmental authorities and civil society organizations in targeted, innovative, and demand-driven interventions: sustaining effective strategy and policy development, legislative review and harmonization, capability development, and regional and trans-regional cooperation. The project also provides direct assistance to victims of human trafficking and vulnerable migrants through the strengthening of identification, referral, and protection mechanisms. The project is fully committed to mainstreaming Human Rights and Gender Equality considerations across all of its activities.




The project is funded by the European Union.

For more information, please contact:

Ms. Shahida Gillani, National Project Officer


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