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While Not A New Tool, Wiretapping Now Used As New Way To Fight Human Trafficking

MGN Online

While Florida’s fight against human trafficking is far from over, officials say one tool is helping combat the modern-slavery practice.

Florida is one of the top states in the nation for calls to the national human trafficking hotline, and Pamela Marsh says it’s growing increasingly difficult to go after human traffickers. Marsh—who’s made combatting human trafficking a priority—is the former U.S. District Attorney for North Florida.

“Many of the human trafficking organizations are following the models of the drug trafficking organizations, and those are sometimes very, very hard to break into,” said Marsh, speaking last week on WFSU's Perspectives. “Human Trafficking, in my opinion, is even harder because the victims of human trafficking are so scared to death by the threats that the traffickers make. So, they aren’t coming forward to say, ‘I’m being abused.’”

So, that’s left state attorneys and law enforcement looking for better ways to take down traffickers. And, while it’s not a new tool, Marsh says wiretapping is now being used to combat human trafficking.

But, she says getting approval for the surveillance technology is not as easy as people might think.

“It’s not just the U.S. Attorney who decides, ‘hey, let’s make more of this investigation and go tap somebody’s phone.’ To get a wiretap under Title III, you have to do a very long affidavit by an agent, who talks about the goings-on that they observed, why they haven’t been able to use other types of law enforcement tools like undercovers or sending in people who they’ve been able to flip, that sometimes, it’s impossible to use those tools and we have to go to something bigger,” Marsh added.

And, then, Marsh says the process gets even longer because a judge has to get involved.

“They have to prove in this affidavit to a court, to a judge, this is a last resort, otherwise we don’t get these bad guys. And, so, the court will look at a long application for a wiretap. And, if the wiretap has been granted by the court, then the prosecutor and the agent are required to do 10-day reports for the duration of the wiretap. Usually, 30 days to start is the limit. So, it’s not something that can be done easily on the fly,” she continued.

Meanwhile, in addition to human trafficking cases, Marsh says wiretapping is now used to combat white collar crimes as well.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.