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UN calls on social media firms to block people smugglers’ content

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block people smugglers’ content

Social media firms must make it more difficult for human traffickers to use their platforms to lure West African migrants to Libya, the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has demanded.

People smugglers often use platforms such as Facebook to advertise fake jobs in a bid to tempt potential migrants to the North African country, where they face being imprisoned, tortured or sold off into forced labour at slave auctions.

Traffickers are also using encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp to send footage of migrants being tortured to their relatives in order to extort ransom money, IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle told reporters during a news briefing yesterday.

Appealing directly to social media companies, Doyle told them they have a responsibility to behave in such a way that does not result in thousands of migrants being lured towards death, torture and slavery.

Doyle added that while the IOM has been in discussion with the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp over the issue, the companies have taken very little action except to ask which pages they should take down.

Arguing that it is not the IOM’s place to police content on social media platforms, Doyle noted that Africa represents a growing market for these types of firms, and that Facebook is attempting to make sure people in developing nations have access to the basic technology required to access its platform.

As a result, would-be migrants in West Africa are often only one click away from material posted by people smugglers, he said, warning that social media firms are “giving a turbo-charged communications channel to criminals, to smugglers, to traffickers, to exploiters”.

In July, researchers from the University of Cambridge revealed that people smuggling gangs were using Facebook to offer migrants transport across the Mediterranean into Europe.

Dr Paolo Campana, who led the research, commented: “Some smugglers cheat, some overcharge, some care about safety, some don’t care who lives or dies. Some offer ‘premium’ services, fast-tracking migrants through smuggling routes. Some don’t protect people from kidnappers, others help buy them back from militias.

“The law struggles to apprehend smugglers, and when they do manage it, any void created is likely to be immediately filled. The main things that stop smugglers defrauding many more migrants, or drowning them in unseaworthy boats, are individual morality and maintaining a reputation that attracts more business.”

Months earlier, the IOM voiced concern after a video was posted on Facebook that appeared to show hundreds of mistreated migrants apparently held against their will in a makeshift prison in Libya.

In the video, migrants said they had been beaten and tortured, with some claiming they had had their teeth knocked out and their arms broken.

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US citizens spent $150 billion on cannabis, cocaine, heroin and crystal meth in 2016

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US citizens spent $150 billion on cannabis, cocaine, heroin and crystal meth

A new report published by non-profit research organisation RAND has revealed that US citizens spent almost $150 billion on cannabis, cocaine, heroin and crystal methamphetamine in 2016.

The study, titled What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs, also found that the US cannabis market is approximately the same size as the cocaine and methamphetamine markets combined, and that America’s retail heroin trade has grown to become closer to the size of the cannabis market than it is to those for other illcit substances.

Some 2.4 million Americans used cocaine on four or more days over the course of one month between 2015 and 2016, while heroin consumption across the country increased by around 10% every 12 months between 2010 and 2016, according to the report.

The report noted that the introduction and spread of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanyl had increased the risk attached to taking heroin and complicated researchers’ analysis of the market over the study period.

RAND discovered that the lion’s share of money spent on drugs in the US comes from a relatively small number of people who use illicit substances on a daily or almost daily basis.

Researchers also said that while national data sets on the consumption of methamphetamine in the US are poor, an increase in the number of seizures of the drug across the country and at its southwest border with Mexico between 2007 and 2016 tallied with a rise in usage over the same period.

The report recommended that the federal government reintroduce Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) to help researchers better map and understand patterns in the usage of illegal substances such as methamphetamine and fentanyl.

It also noted that wastewater analysis is another good approach for estimating drug consumption across the US, observing that such testing has been used effectively in other countries such as Australia, which publishes the results of wastewater drug analysis annually.

Commenting on the findings of the study, Greg Midgette, the report’s lead author who serves as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland and an adjunct policy researcher at RAND, said: “To better understand changes in drug use outcomes and the effects of policies, policymakers need to know what is happening in markets for these substances.

“But it is challenging to generate these estimates, and given that critical data sources have been eliminated, it will likely be harder to generate these figures in the future.”

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Customs officers in Guinea provided with training on how to use Interpol border security tools

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Interpol border security tools

As part of its ongoing efforts to bolster the abilities of law enforcement agencies in West Africa, Interpol has led a border security operation in the region intended to highlight the importance of targeting individuals attempting to use counterfeit travel papers.

Operation Stop kicked off with a two-day training course at the end of July during which border security officials in Guinea were taught how to use a number of Interpol resources such as the global policing agency’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database.

The resource is intended to help investigators across the globe check the validity of travel documents in seconds, allowing them to quickly identify incidents of document fraud, detect individuals attempting to travel illegally, and crack down on illicit cross-border financial flows.

As part of the initiative, Interpol extended access to its I-24/7 secure police communication system to security officials at the international airport in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, as well as to other law enforcement units outside the Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB), allowing them direct access to the organisation’s criminal databases.

After initial training sessions, Interpol oversaw two days of live operations at the airport, which involved border officers screening passengers using the tools they had been taught how to operate.

Local officials were also encouraged to run passenger details from the previous month’s flights though the database to reinforce the skills and knowledge they had acquired.

After conducting over 23,000 checks, border force officers at the airport identified three positive “hits” against documents recorded in the SLTD database.

Harald Arm, Interpol Director of Operational Support and Analysis, commented: “Police are just one piece of the border security puzzle.

“Access to the right tools at the right locations, the skills to use them effectively and coordination with other relevant law enforcement agencies, must all combine to ensure countries can best protect their borders.

“Activities such as Operation Stop which bring all these aspects together and encourage cooperation nationally, regionally and globally will have a lasting positive impact on border security throughout West Africa.”

Earlier this month, Interpol announced that it had headed up a separate border control operation in West Africa that resulted in the rescue of over 100 suspected victims of human trafficking, including 35 children.

This followed a similar Interpol-led effort in the region back in April, which saw almost 220 suspected human trafficking victims being identified and rescued in Benin and Nigeria.

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A quarter of all CDs ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in US are counterfeit, RIAA warns

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CDs ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in the US are counterfeit

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has claimed that 25% of all CDs “fulfilled by Amazon” in the US are counterfeit.

A recent sample purchase programme conducted by the RIAA, which represents major labels that are responsible for the creation, manufacture, distribution or sale of 85% of all legitimately recorded music produced in the US, also found that 100% of new “high-quality box sets offered for sale through eBay or AliExpress in the US were counterfeit”.

The exercise revealed that 11% of new CDs offered for sale on Amazon were fake, and 16% of new CDs sold on eBay were bogus.

Publishing the findings of its sample purchase programme, the RIAA said it had also observed the sale of fake “best of” or “greatest hits” CDs or vinyl that purport to be from major record label artists on these platforms, even when the labels in question had never released such albums.

The association said it continues to see a high number of incidents in which its members branding has been used without permission on multiple ecommerce platforms, including Amazon, eBay, Redbubble and Bonanza.

“These infringements not only undermine revenues from legitimate sources to music creators and owners, they also harm the reputation and goodwill associated with the artists, brands or logos at issue,” the RIAA said.

“This harm is exacerbated by limited and inconsistent enforcement by online third-party marketplaces and other intermediaries to address counterfeit listings and sellers of counterfeit products.”

Responding to the RIAA’s findings in a statement given to Digital Music News, Amazon said: “Our customers expect that when they make a purchase through Amazon’s store—either directly from Amazon or from one of its millions of third-party sellers—they will receive authentic products.

“Amazon strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and we invest heavily in both funds and company energy to ensure our policy is followed.”

Last month, research conducted by anti-piracy and counterfeit protection firm Red Points revealed that the number of items buyers believe to be fake sold on Amazon rises by a third during the company’s annual Prime Day event.

Earlier in July, Amazon announced the expansion of its flagship anti-counterfeiting Transparency programme to France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, India and Canada.

First launched in the US back in March 2017, the initiative allows companies to apply unique T-shaped QR-style codes to their products, which can be used by customers, brands, Amazon and other participants in the supply chain to authenticate items being offered for sale.

 

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