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Computer Science Colloquia

Counter-QAnon: The Fight for Democracy in the Era of Weaponized Information and Violent Extremism in Human Trafficking

Anjana Rajan, Chief Technology Officer, Polaris

Thursday, Nov 12, 2020

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Polaris is an NGO that is leading a data-driven social justice movement to fight sex and labor trafficking. Polaris does this in two main ways; first, Polaris provides immediate response to victims and survivors of human trafficking through the operation of the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. Second, Polaris takes the knowledge and insight about how trafficking really operates to reshape underlying systems that enable sex and labor trafficking, and work with financial institutions to make trafficking less profitable and higher risk. Survivors’ perspectives inform all of Polaris’ work. 

Recently, a new threat has emerged in the anti-human trafficking movement: the rise of QAnon. Polaris sees three distinct and urgent threats posed by QAnon: first, the anti-human trafficking movement is being threatened; second, our democracy and institutions are being undermined through weaponized information; and third, the rise of conspiracy theories is fueling violent extremism, potentially directed at those in the anti-trafficking community. At the nexus of these threats is a common link: QAnon’s widespread efforts to sow discord and confusion.

In this talk, Polaris's Chief Technology Officer, Anjana Rajan, will explain how Polaris understands this threat and will share their security strategy to defend the anti-human trafficking movement.  

Speaker Bio

Anjana Rajan is a technology executive and entrepreneur whose expertise is applying cryptography to national security and human rights issues. She is the Chief Technology Officer of Polaris, an NGO that is leading a data-driven social justice movement to fight sex and labor trafficking.

Anjana is the former Chief Technology Officer of Callisto, a nonprofit that builds cryptographically-advanced technology to combat sexual assault. In this role, Anjana led the engineering, security, and design teams, with a focus on building products that protect the privacy of sexual assault survivors. Callisto is funded by Greylock Partners, Y Combinator, and the Skoll Foundation.

Recently, Anjana was a Tech Policy Fellow at the Aspen Institute, where she worked on privacy-preserving methods to eradicate mass gun violence caused by white supremacist terrorists. She is also an independent consultant for the Homeland Security Advisory Council that supports the country’s top national security leaders on cybersecurity policy. Anjana has testified before Congress as an expert witness to speak about ways technology can protect survivors and victims of human trafficking.

Previously, Anjana lived in London and worked at Palantir Technologies, where she built and deployed big data software platforms. At Palantir, she served as a Commanding Officer for a deployment in the Middle East and worked across commercial and international government projects. Prior to joining Palantir, Anjana worked as a technologist at Johnson & Johnson focusing on building new software products across global healthcare markets.

Anjana was a Knight Scholar at Cornell University and received her bachelor's and master's degrees in Operations Research and Information Engineering. Anjana is also a former elite triathlete who raced for Team USA. 


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Jessica Brenn