California State Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, talks about his proposed bill to fight human trafficking. Currently, criminals can hide their activities through smartphones. (OBSERVER photo by Antonio R. Harvey)

SACRAMENTO — For almost two decades, the city of Sacramento and other municipalities across the state have been faced with increases in human trafficking.

Assemblymember Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, along with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office, crime victim’s families, and bill supporters, announced the introduction of human trafficking legislation in Sacramento at the State Capitol on Jan. 20.

The bill, Assembly Bill 1681, will allow law enforcement to investigate and prosecute suspected criminals and criminal organizations that are involved in modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain.

Currently, criminals can conceal their criminal activities by purchasing smart phones that employ “full-disk encryption” (FDE). FDE operating systems provide criminals a tool to prey on women, children, and threaten civil liberties.

AB 1681 would restore a critical investigative tool while keeping communities safe and preserving the Fourth Amendment, Assemblyman Cooper said of the proposed legislation. The bill is “ground zero,” the Assemblyman said.

“The big thing about this is that it’s not the boogie man, it’s not the NSA (National Security Administratio), and it’s not Eric Snowden,” Cooper said. “Ninety-nine percent of the public will not have their phones searched without a court-order. What we’re talking about is folks involved trafficking. Hopefully, this legislation can do something about it,” he added.

In 2014, cell phone manufactures stated instituting new operation systems for smartphones and tablets. These new operating systems, Cooper said, employ, by default, FDE. The only way to access data stored on a smartphone using a FDE system is by the user, or permission from the user, using a passcode.

Without AB 1681, Cooper said, law enforcement risks losing crucial evidence in human trafficking cases should the content of passcode-protected smartphones remain immune to court order.

“The way the system is setup right now you cannot access that information. You need a court order by a judge. That’s the issue,” Cooper said. “This day and age a lot of folks communicate by cell phone. The victim (prostitute) could be up in a room with a customer while (the pimp and prostitute) are communicating back and forth. There’s a lot of information translated between those two phones,” Cooper added.

AB 1681, if passed and signed by the governor, would a require smartphone that is manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2017, and sold in California, to be capable of being decrypted and unlocked by the maker or cell phone carrier.

“We know that traffickers use their phones to entice children into the life (of prostitution),” Sacramento County Chief Deputy District Attorney Natalia Luna said. “(Pimps) use them to take photos of them wearing little to no clothing to advertise them on websites that offers sexual services for money,” she added.

Human trafficking is a unique crime as victims rarely come forward to seek help because of language barriers, fear of the traffickers (pimps), and/or fear of law enforcement. Traffickers use intimidation, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation.

“Half of the victims are children,” Cooper said. “It’s a vicious crime.”

Assemblyman Cooper’s AB 1681 has the support of fellow Assemblymen Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, and James Gallagher, R-Nicolaus. Marti Mac Gibbons, a human trafficking survivor and advocate also supports the legislation.

“It’s a game changer,” Ms. Gibbons said said of AB 1681. “This bill is so important because it can give law enforcement and prosecutors access to valuable evidence to corroborate the victims’ statements.”

Most important, Ms. Gibbons said, is the legislation will lead the victims out of the world of human trafficking. The safety of the public as well as the victim is paramount, she said.

“Recovery does happens. The power of the human spirit is great,” Ms. Gibbon said.
“There is a lot of resilience for survivors. Don’t think this is a hopeless thing because we do recover, we do want our life back, and we do want to do great things,” she added.
By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer