Monday, September 24, 2007

Estimates in the fog

Pointing to the enormous gap between U.S. estimates of the number of humans trafficked (50,000 a year) and U.S. cases involving trafficking (1,362 since 2000), criminologist Ronald Weitzer told the Washington Post:
'The discrepancy between the alleged number of victims per year and the number of cases they've been able to make is so huge that it's got to raise major questions. It suggests that this problem is being blown way out of proportion.'
Though law enforcement agents' lack of knowledge about or interest in the problem no doubt furthers that gap, in Weitzer's view, that can't account for all of it. In any event, the political capital to be won from embrace of the issue -- of critical concern to some in this administration's base -- itself suggests a need for careful examination of the scope of the problem and the proper means to address it.
The problem scarcely is limited to human trafficking. More than once the declaration of a transnational threat -- from drug trafficking, for instance, or money laundering, or terrorism -- has spurred massive spending campaigns. Campaigns have been undertaken with little identification of goals, little study of what might work to achieve those goals, and little consideration of how stepped-up law enforcement would impinge on civil liberties; in short, with little genuine cost-benefit analysis.
Inevitably, assessment of a criminal enterprise will contain "estimates in the fog." Petrus C. van Duyne, Organized Crime in Europe 113 (1996), quoted in Diane Marie Amann, Spotting Money Launderers: A Better Way to Fight Organized Crime?, 27 Syracuse Journal of International Law and Commerce 199, 229 (2000). That fact alone counsels care in crafting law enforcement mechanisms that will do the most harm to law-breakers with the least intrusion on law-abiders.

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