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Demonetization hits child trafficking industry hard

The recent demonetization measures in the country has had a positive impact on child trafficking. According to various child right NGOs, there has been a dip in the number of girls being trafficked from various states to Delhi, just after the Prime Minister made Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes illegal.

There are around 5,000 functional placement agencies in Delhi which supplies maid-servants to various families in the capital. A number of these servants are under age, and around 45-50 per cent of these girls are brought in to the Capital from states like Jharkhand, Assam and West Bengal.

Sources say the transactions conducted at the time of trafficking was in cash. This cash used to get distributed between traffickers, source agent, and the sub-agent. But now after the recent demonetization measures, the middlemen (sub-agents) are finding it more difficult to get their money which has resulted in a dip in child trafficking.

Child NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) recently visited a few placement agencies, where they said they found that there are little to no under-age maid-servants available with these agencies.

“Earlier, these agencies used to have a large number of girls and then sell it to the people (hiring person) as per their needs. From trained servants to untrained, they used to categorize the girls,” said Rakesh Sengar an activist associated with the BBA.

“When our team recently visited a few placement agencies and posed as customers, we got to know that they don’t have many girls now. The people at the agencies said the business was down these days and we would have to choose between the two-three girls they have,” he added.

The child rights agency said that they had also seen a dip in the number of girls coming to railways stations from Assam, West Bengal and Jharkhand. As per its data, if 50 girls were found in any station earlier, now they had seen only a single girl who had been trafficked.

Rishi Kant, activist from the NGO Shakti Vahini, which focuses on core issues related to children, women and Right to Information, said that he had also seen a drop in child trafficking, but added that it was too early to attribute it to the note ban.

A report by the NGO Global March Against Child Labour entitled ‘Economics Behind Forced Labour Trafficking’ found that illegally run placement agencies in India earn Rs 13,000 to Rs 41,000 crores per year by exploiting an estimated 7 to 17 million domestic child labourers. While these women and children are being paid a pittance of Rs 1,000 to Rs 4,000 per month as remuneration, the agencies receive commission between Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 per child.

Mostly, these victims are being sent to houses to work as slaves in Faridabad, Gurgaon, Noida and Delhi. Children as young as 11-14 years are placed in homes and are made to work as domestic help for 14-16 hours a day.

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A simple solution to end the encryption debate

Criminals and terrorists, like millions of others, rely on smartphone encryption to protect the information on their mobile devices. But unlike most of us, the data on their phones could endanger lives and pose a great threat to national security.

The challenge for law enforcement, and for us as a society, is how to reconcile the advantages of gaining access to the plans of dangerous individuals with the cost of opening a door to the lives of everyone else. It is the modern manifestation of the age-old conflict between privacy versus security, playing out in our pockets and palms.

One-size-fits all technological solutions, like a manufacturer-built universal backdoor tool for smartphones, likely create more dangers than they prevent. While no solution will be perfect, the best ways to square data access with security concerns require a more nuanced approach that rely on non-technological procedures.

The FBI has increasingly pressed the case that criminals and terrorists use smartphone security measures to avoid detection and investigation, arguing for a technological, cryptographic solution to stop these bad actors from “going dark.” In fact, there are recent reports that the Executive Branch is engaged in discussions to compel manufacturers to build technological tools so law enforcement can read otherwise-encrypted data on smartphones.

But the FBI is also tasked with protecting our nation against cyber threats. Encryption has a critical role in protecting our digital systems against compromises by hackers and thieves. And of course, a centralized data access tool would be a prime target for hackers and criminals. As recent events prove – from the 2016 elections to the recent ransomware attack against government computers in Atlanta – the problem will likely only become worse. Anything that weakens our cyber defenses will only make it more challenging for authorities to balance these “dual mandates” of cybersecurity and law enforcement access.

There is also the problem of internal threats: when they have access to customer data, service providers themselves can misuse or sell it without permission. Once someone’s data is out of their control, they have very limited means to protect it against exploitation. The current, growing scandal around the data harvesting practices on social networking platforms illustrates this risk. Indeed, our company Symphony Communications, a strongly encrypted messaging platform, was formed in the wake of a data misuse scandal by a service provider in the financial services sector.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

So how do we help law enforcement without making data privacy even thornier than it already is? A potential solution is through a non-technological method, sensitive to the needs of all parties involved, that can sometimes solve the tension between government access and data protection while preventing abuse by service providers.

Agreements between some of our clients and the New York State Department of Financial Services (“NYSDFS”), proved popular enough that FBI Director Wray recently pointed to them as a model of “responsible encryption” that solves the problem of “going dark” without compromising robust encryption critical to our nation’s business infrastructure.

The solution requires storage of encryption keys — the codes needed to decrypt data — with third party custodians. Those custodians would not keep these client’s encryption keys. Rather, they give the access tool to clients, and then clients can choose how to use it and to whom they wish to give access. A core component of strong digital security is that a service provider should not have access to client’s unencrypted data nor control over a client’s encryption keys.

The distinction is crucial. This solution is not technological, like backdoor access built by manufacturers or service providers, but a human solution built around customer control.  Such arrangements provide robust protection from criminals hacking the service, but they also prevent customer data harvesting by service providers.

Where clients choose their own custodians, they may subject those custodians to their own, rigorous security requirements. The clients can even split their encryption keys into multiple pieces distributed over different third parties, so that no one custodian can access a client’s data without the cooperation of the others.

This solution protects against hacking and espionage while safeguarding against the misuse of customer content by the service provider. But it is not a model that supports service provider or manufacturer built back doors; our approach keeps the encryption key control in clients’ hands, not ours or the government’s.

A custodial mechanism that utilizes customer-selected third parties is not the answer to every part of the cybersecurity and privacy dilemma. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that this dilemma will submit to a single solution, especially a purely technological one. Our experience shows that reasonable, effective solutions can exist. Technological features are core to such solutions, but just as critical are non-technological considerations. Advancing purely technical answers – no matter how inventive – without working through the checks, balances and risks of implementation would be a mistake.

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