CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES OF WILD FAUNA AND FLORA. CITES E-commerce workshop Vancouver (Canada), February 2009

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1 CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES OF WILD FAUNA AND FLORA CITES E-commerce workshop Vancouver (Canada), February 2009 LEGAL AND ILLEGAL INTERNET TRADE IN SPECIMENS OF CITES-LISTED SPECIES 1. This document has been prepared by the Secretariat. INTRODUCTION 2. In Decision 14.35, the Conference of the Parties directed the Secretariat to seek information from the Parties related to Internet trade in specimens of CITES-listed species. It further directed the Secretariat to review this information and to prepare a background document for consideration at a workshop at which trade in wildlife via the Internet would be discussed. 3. In support of the above, the Secretariat issued Notification No. 2007/026 1 on 21 August 2007, inviting CITES Management Authorities to submit information no later than 31 December 2007 on: a) the scale and nature of wildlife trade conducted via the Internet that apparently involves their country; b) any real or perceived problems relating to such trade, including illicit trade; c) the nature and effectiveness of any measures that Parties have taken to regulate the trade in wildlife via the Internet, including the use of codes of conduct; and d) any changes in trade routes, species in trade and methods of shipment that have been observed as a result of increased use of the Internet to promote trade in wildlife. 4. This document is a review and analysis of the information submitted by Parties and is intended to aid discussions at the workshop called for in Decision 14.55, paragraph (c). 5. Decision 14.55, paragraph (b), called for the use of the services of a suitably-qualified consultant to review the information submitted by Parties. However, the Secretariat noted that the information received did not appear sufficiently detailed, or technical to warrant the employment of such a specialist. Consequently, as reported at the 57th meeting of the Standing Committee (Geneva, July 2008), the review has been conducted by a staff member of the Secretariat who has extensive knowledge of information technology issues. 6. A total of 20 submissions were received, 19 from Parties and one from a non-governmental organization 2. Representation was heavily skewed in favour of developed countries 3 (13 out of 19) International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America. CITES E-commerce workshop p. 1

2 Ten of the 19 submissions came from Parties in the European Union 4. One country in Europe not a member of the European Union submitted information 5. Six countries from developing regions submitted information, three from Asia and three from Latin America and the Caribbean. One country each from North America and from Oceania submitted information (see the Table below). Region Submissions by Parties in response to Notification No. 2007/026 Total of submissions Parties % of total submissions Africa (52 Parties) 0 0 % Asia (33 Parties as of 31 December 2007) Central and South America and the Caribbean (31 Parties) Europe (45 Parties) 11 North America (3 Parties) 3 China, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates 16 % 3 Argentina, Colombia and Guatemala 16 % Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 57 % 1 United States of America 5 % Oceania (8 Parties) 1 New Zealand 5 % Total out of 172 Parties (as of 31 December 2007) 6 11 % 7. Conclusions from this analysis, therefore, must consider the under-representation from developing regions, particularly Africa and Asia which contain 52 and 34 7 Parties respectively. Conclusions should also take into account the fact that the majority of Parties submitting information are consumers as opposed to producers of wildlife. Furthermore, five out of the 19 Parties that submitted comments (China, United States, Germany, United Kingdom and France in decreasing order) are among the top 10 users of the Internet (see the chart below) 8. Another variable that may impact on results is that six countries who submitted information (Denmark, United States, Switzerland, Singapore, United Kingdom and The Netherlands) are among the top 10 countries considered to be e-ready for business, with Denmark and the United States in the first and second place respectively 9. Arguably, these factors will introduce bias in any analysis regarding the use of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and the United Kingdom. Switzerland. Currently, there are 173 Parties to the Convention. There will be 174 Parties from 21 January There were 33 Parties in Asia as of 31 December On 24 July 2008, CNN reported that China s fast-growing population of Internet users had surpassed the United States to become the world's biggest, with 253 million people online at the end of June 2008 ( However, the proportion of online users in China stands at 19 %, which still accounts for less than a quarter of the country s population. ( Economist Intelligence Unit. (2007). The 2007 e-readiness rankings: Raising the bar. London: EIU. ( (The Economics Intelligence Unit defines e-readiness as: the state of play of a country s information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and the ability of its consumers, businesses and governments to use ICT to their benefit.) CITES E-commerce workshop p. 2

3 new information and communication technologies, particularly those that are Internet-based, to conduct electronic commerce in wildlife 10. Top 10 countries with the highest number of Internet users (in millions) Internet World Stats 30 June 2008 ( 8. Finally, while this analysis may at best suggest certain trends, particularly in the developed world, it may be impossible or difficult to ascertain the relevancy of these trends to many developing regions and sub-regions. THE INTERNET AND TRADE IN SPECIMENS OF CITES-LISTED SPECIES The Internet 9. For the purpose of this document, the Internet may be described as: A large collection of networks that are linked together so that users of any one of the networks can reach users on any of the other networks. Internet communication is governed by a series of protocols which are structured to interact with each other This description presupposes that use of the Internet to conduct trade in wildlife may encompass a variety of different Internet protocols, including protocols for electronic mail, telephony, discussion groups, file transfer, remote access and the World Wide Web, among others. 11. However, the great majority of submissions from Parties, when discussing Internet-based wildlife trade, refer to use of the World Wide Web (WWW), a system of interlinked hypertext documents available on the Internet through the use of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http). Some submissions refer also to the use of electronic discussion groups, some of which are accessible via In the European Union, Internet access by enterprises with 10 or more employees reached an average of 92 % in 2007 (including the two new member countries, Bulgaria and Romania), Information report , United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2007, p. 33 ( International Telecommunication Union. (2002). A Handbook on new technologies and services, p. 5. ( CITES E-commerce workshop p. 3

4 the World Wide Web and others accessible via an older Internet protocol called Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) 12. Trade in specimens of CITES-listed species 12. The Convention defines trade as the export, re-export, import and introduction from the sea of specimens of CITES-listed species. Trade, as defined within the context of the Convention, cannot 'occur over the Internet'. That is, the interactions occurring over the Internet are personal communication, Web advertising, transfer of funds and other activities among sellers and buyers to facilitate and undertake such trade. 13. 'Trade', as far as CITES is concerned, is the international movement of specimens. It is important to distinguish this from the commercial 'trade' transaction or sales agreement that may occur via the Internet in advance of CITES-related trade/movement of specimens. 14. Given the above, the Secretariat is of the opinion that, with regard to Decision 14.35, the issue of concern should be the identification of correlations, if any, between increased use of the Internet and the rate of illegal wildlife trade in specimens of CITES-listed species. Such an exercise would assist Parties to understand and deal with issues related to the Internet and wildlife crime more effectively. 15. The Secretariat also believes that this process should consider how the CITES community can respond to ensure that sale and purchase agreements that may be made via the Internet result in trade/movement of specimens that comply with the provisions of the Convention. SCALE AND NATURE OF WILDLIFE TRADE CONDUCTED VIA THE INTERNET Asia 16. Parties from the Asian region reported some use of the Internet to arrange wildlife trade including the use of discussion or hobby forums and specialized auction websites, with China reporting the largest number of transactions. 17. The type of wildlife specimens for sale was varied, ranging from birds and some mammal species (United Arab Emirates) to primarily ivory (China) to hard corals, giant clams and parrots and slow lorises (Singapore). At the present time, however, Asian Parties state that illegal wildlife trade over the Internet does not appear to be on the increase. 18. China, for example, reported that illegal trade in wildlife in Internet in China has decreased or remained stable in recent years. This reflects in part findings in a recent report by Wu, programme officer, Traffic East Asia, on wildlife trade on the Chinese-language Internet. Wu claims that There are at least 120 million Internet users in the Chinese-speaking markets covered by this study, and only 4291 unique advertisements for CITES-listed species were found over the course of this eightmonth study. This may indicate that virtual markets for wildlife trade do not yet have wide penetration 13. Similarly, the United Arab Emirates stated that Internet-based wildlife trade does not reflect an organized Internet trade but opportunistic trade. Central and South America and the Caribbean 19. It is difficult to state with any degree of certainty the level of wildlife trade conducted over the Internet in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Argentina, for example, stated that the volume of trade in native species on the Internet is not significant and does not point to the existence of an organized network. Colombia is implementing a national strategy to control illegal trade of specimens on the Internet. In Guatemala, the Departamento de Vida Silvestre del Consejo Nacional de Áreas Protegidas undertook a review of the wildlife trade over the Internet. While it did NNTP is the predominant Internet protocol used by computer clients and servers for managing messages posted on Usenet newsgroups. Usenet is a global distributed discussion system. It consists of many newsgroups with names that are classified hierarchically by theme. Wu, J. (2007). World without borders: Wildlife trade on the Chinese-language Internet. Traffic Bulletin, v.21(2): CITES E-commerce workshop p. 4

5 Europe find illegal trade on sites which were monitored, the total amount did not appear to be major, and overall reflected the findings in Argentina. 20. Of the 11 European Parties who made submissions, only Poland submitted details of a formal investigation. Many Parties admitted to the difficulty in quantifying the extent of electronic commerce in wildlife via the Internet and to their lack of knowledge concerning the size and growth of the Internet. For the most part, data on the amount of illegal wildlife trade and subsequent investigations do not point to an organized and significant activity. Switzerland and Poland were the exception to this rule, with the former reporting that transactions over the Internet ranged from single specimens to large-scale trade. 21. Most Parties reported rapid growth of wildlife trade on the Internet and expressed a view that such commerce constitutes a troubling and poorly understood trend. Moreover, while some Parties reported new programmes to track such trade, other Parties reported that a lack of resources has prevented a more systematic and effective monitoring of wildlife trade over the Internet. 22. The Netherlands stated that preliminary results of a project to monitor the Internet indicated that most trade was legal or could not be declared illegal given the information available. Poland, in the first year of its investigation, reported a high percentage of trade as illegal, although in later years illegal trade appeared to be on the decrease. Overall, a wide range of species was offered for sale, with some countries, particularly Poland, reporting that the majority of species were from Appendix II. North America 23. The size and scale of wildlife trade over the Internet in the United States is difficult to quantify, and to date there is a lack of authoritative, dependable research on this topic 14. This trade is also highly varied and dynamic. Furthermore, the United States reports that, while most of the trade is legal, a substantial quantity of wildlife sold via the Internet is in contravention of State, Federal and international wildlife laws and regulations. 24. The range of CITES-listed species found for sale on the Internet is wide and varied and sellers and consumers are turning increasingly to this medium to conduct trade. Oceania 25. New Zealand reported one Web auction site on its borders, Trade Me ( which offers CITES-listed species for sale. It also reported that its National Compliance Coordinator receives weekly requests for the removal of these specimens from that website. REAL OR PERCEIVED PROBLEMS RELATING TO SUCH TRADE, INCLUDING ILLICIT TRADE Asia 26. The primary problem reported by Parties in the Asian region related to the difficulty in controlling wildlife trade conducted over the Internet. China, for example, reported that the re-emergence of illegal wildlife trade occurred because dishonest sellers were able to adapt their selling strategies, changing the spelling of an advertised specimen, for example, to avoid monitoring. Singapore reported difficulty in prosecuting sellers located outside of national borders. 14 United States Fish and Wildlife Service. (14 August 2007). Note to Internet Wildlife Criminals: That 'Customer' Could Be a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agent. News Release. ( CITES E-commerce workshop p. 5

6 Central and South America and the Caribbean 27. As in the Asian region, Parties in Central and South America and the Caribbean experienced problems controlling and monitoring trade conducted via the Internet. Argentina listed a number of ways sellers could advertise specimens in contravention of national and international laws. Guatemala reported on the transitory nature of information on the Internet, and the difficulties associated in tracing the source of such information. Europe 28. There was almost consensus among European Parties that the dynamic nature of the Internet, its global extent coupled with easily acquired anonymity for sellers and buyers poses uniquely difficult challenges to enforcement and web-monitoring authorities. 29. Reported factors preventing effective monitoring of the Internet include, but are not limited to: the sheer volume of unregulated traffic; the difficulty in investigating every potentially illegal e-commerce case; increasingly sophisticated methods used by unscrupulous sellers to avoid detection; legal problems concerning computer servers hosted outside of national borders; the lack of resources that are required for effective investigations; and the large number of advertisements that are hoaxes or attempts to deceive buyers. North America 30. The United States also reported a widespread belief among enforcement agencies that the number of undeclared and illegal wildlife shipments is increasing as a result of transactions conducted over the Internet. Effective monitoring is impeded by the use of new information technologies by unscrupulous sellers and by the lack of adequate resources to enable a timely response and an investigation of alleged offences. Oceania 31. Reported problems related to Internet trade in New Zealand included the alteration of specimens to make them appear to be antiques, listing of CITES-listed specimens without required documentation or permits; deliberate mislabelling of courier packages to facilitate illegal trade; and problems with securing memoranda of understanding with international web auction sites. NATURE AND EFFECTIVENESS OF ANY MEASURES THAT PARTIES HAVE TAKEN TO REGULATE THE TRADE IN WILDLIFE VIA THE INTERNET, INCLUDING THE USE OF CODES OF CONDUCT Asia 32. Parties in the Asian region reported on efforts to monitor websites advertising the sale of CITESlisted species, and some successes in removing such items from Web auction sites. China, for example, instructed auction websites located within its borders to remove CITES-listed specimens from their websites. It also is planning a workshop in cooperation with a non-governmental organization to raise awareness on the use of the Internet and illegal wildlife trade. Singapore and the United Arab Emirates reported few problems in convincing national auction websites to remove advertisements deemed to be illegal for CITES-listed specimens. In fact, the United Arab Emirates counts on a service able to block any website found to be inconsistent with its religious, cultural, political and moral values. Central and South America and the Caribbean 33. Only Argentina reported measures to regulate the trade in wildlife via the Internet, namely, contacting websites which advertise wildlife and establishing a working relationship with the managers of such sites. CITES E-commerce workshop p. 6

7 Europe 34. Efforts are underway in several European Parties to establish agreements or codes of conduct with auction websites to prevent the illegal sale of CITES-listed species. Germany, Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands, for example, are discussing with web auction sites the elaboration or use of such codes of conduct. Some Parties have also invested in public awareness and educational programmes to inform the managers of these sites and the general public. 35. Poland referred to information and education initiatives by some non-governmental organizations and efforts by police to publicize successful prosecutions of sellers using the Internet to conduct illegal trade. Germany reported on efforts to monitor illegal trade more effectively through the establishment of a Central Internet Research Unit, with two officers out of 27 dedicated to this task. Finally, some countries reported successful prosecutions of illegal wildlife trade conducted via the Internet. North America 36. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service works with owners of auction websites to promote awareness of laws regulating wildlife amongst managers of the sites and the general public. As in some European Parties, the United States designated a Service Special Agent to work on enforcement matters with E-bay. Another approach by the United States has been its investment in computer forensics, which has increased the capacity of Fish and Wildlife Service to capture electronic evidence. Oceania 37. New Zealand reported the establishment of a Memorandum of Cooperation with the only web auction site within its national borders, Trade Me, which includes cooperation to prevent the illegal sale of CITES-listed specimens. Additionally, a proposed conservation bill creates a new offence to deal with Internet advertising for the sale of fauna and flora without the appropriate authorisations. CHANGES IN TRADE ROUTES, SPECIES IN TRADE AND METHODS OF SHIPMENT THAT HAVE BEEN OBSERVED AS A RESULT OF INCREASED USE OF THE INTERNET TO PROMOTE TRADE IN WILDLIFE Asia 38. There were almost no data reported from the Asian region in this regard. Only Singapore reported on practices to conduct trade, usually person-to-person with money exchanged on receipt of the specimen. Singapore also reported that the failure of many sellers to show-up could suggest that sales are often a hoax. Central and South America and the Caribbean 39. There were few or no data from this region identifying changes in trade routes, species in trade and methods of shipment. Europe 40. As in Asia and Central and South America and the Caribbean, there were few or no data from the European region identifying changes in trade routes, species in trade and methods of shipment due to increased use of the Internet. However, Poland reported that monitoring of the Internet in 2005 and 2006 indicated that the volume of live animals listed in the CITES Appendices sold through the Internet may have exceeded the volume of trade in shops. North America 41. The United States reported that the number of shipments handled by package delivery services continues to rise. These services have expansive distribution networks which deliver to every address in Europe and North America and to over 200 countries around the world. To meet this challenge, the Fish and Wildlife Service employs wildlife inspectors and special agents at the hubs of CITES E-commerce workshop p. 7

8 FedEx and UPS. Finally, the United States also reported a belief that use of the Internet has contributed to an increase in the number and types of live animals being offered for sale. Oceania 42. New Zealand reported that its monitoring of websites uncovered similar classes of species for sale as those reported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Furthermore, monitoring of trade routes for bear bile and other traditional Asian medicines did not uncover changes except for the use of the website Second Life 15. SUBMISSIONS BY NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS 43. One submission was received from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The submission did not address specifically the information requested in Notification No. 2007/026 but instead summarized the main findings of its publications on Internet and wildlife trade: Caught in the web: Wildlife trade on the Internet 16, Bidding for extinction 17 and Killing with keystrokes In summary, IFAW alleges that illegal trade in wildlife on the Internet is a major, rapidly growing problem, that it is subverting the law and that methods used to avoid detection are increasingly sophisticated. It further claims that such activities are having devastating implications for wildlife conservation and animal welfare. 45. In its last report, Killing with keystrokes, IFAW presented the results of its monitoring of web-based auction sites such as E-bay and recommended that governments: enact more robust legislation on Internet wildlife trade, implement effective enforcement, increase public awareness and devise new ways to monitor and curtail online trade in endangered wildlife. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS 46. It would be difficult to argue that the Internet does not have an impact on electronic commerce in general and on wildlife trade in particular. However, most Parties believe that the impact of the Internet on the rate of illegal wildlife trade is poorly understood, has not been adequately researched and is difficult to quantify. To date, most reporting Parties, Poland being an exception, have not thoroughly analysed data to determine correlations, if any, between use of the Internet and illegal trade in wildlife. That is, while there exists a large amount of anecdotal evidence on possible positive correlations between the use of the Internet and an increase in illegal wildlife crime, such data have not been analysed and validated by research or academic institutions. 47. Most Parties, when speaking about the Internet, referred to websites located on the World Wide Web, particularly auction websites, and discussion groups hosted on Usenet or the World Wide Web. Only one Party referred to another Internet based resource, SKYPE, which is based on a proprietary Internet telephony (VoIP) network. A few mentioned use of electronic mail. It is unknown whether the absence of discussion regarding the impact of other Internet services and resources on illegal wildlife trade is the result of a lack of knowledge about these services or because of the difficulty in quantifying use of these services, Internet telephony being a case in point. 48. Difficulties in monitoring wildlife trade over the Internet were reported by many Parties, although only a few have assigned trained personnel for this task. Many Parties have established agreements or memoranda of understanding with Web auction sites to remove CITES-listed species lacking the required documentation. Some Parties have implemented or are in the process of implementing strategies or policies to deal with Internet wildlife trade, but most have not yet done so. Education and public awareness programmes were also reported by a few Parties Second Life is a 3D digital world imagined and created by its Residents ( CITES E-commerce workshop p. 8

9 49. A number of Parties reported the view that illegal trade did not appear to reflect organized crime. Moreover, many Parties reported that the majority of items advertised for sale were not in contravention of CITES. Many Parties also reported on the difficulties related to prosecution of alleged crimes, particularly when the servers hosting the information were located beyond national borders. 50. The dynamic and anonymous nature of the Internet was identified by many Parties as one of the major obstacles preventing effective enforcement. Similar conclusions were reached by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation in its report on illegal trade in wildlife in North America 19. Parties also identified the ability of sellers to adapt their strategies to evade detection. Furthermore, a number of Parties reported advertisements for CITES-listed species as hoaxes and fraudulent sales. 51. Finally, there do not appear to be any significant changes in trade routes and species in trade, although a number of Parties did report an increase in the variety of species available for trade. 52. The conclusions from this analysis are incomplete in several respects. First and foremost, the lack of data from Parties in many developing regions impedes the generalization of conclusions to a global level. Given the impact of the Internet in facilitating overall trade from developing regions to developed regions 20, the urgency for scientific, peer-reviewed research on possible correlations (positive, negative or neutral) between use of the Internet and the rate of illegal trade in CITES-listed species should not be underestimated. 53. Second, trade, within the context of the Convention, cannot occur over the Internet. Thus why any study seeking to identify correlations between use of the Internet and the rate of illegal trade in specimens of CITES-listed species should strive to focus on issues related to electronic communication between sellers and buyers, advertising, and other interactions which may impact, positively or negatively, on the rate of such trade. Once correlations are identified, Parties would be able to deal more effectively with issues related to the use of the Internet and the rate of illegal wildlife crime. 54. Third, a more concise definition of Internet services and resources used to sell CITES-listed species illegally may facilitate quantification of data related to such activities. The Internet encompasses a wide variety of different resources and services based on different Internet protocols. Illegal trade in wildlife on the Internet may be conducted over any of these services and resources and may pose different challenges and solutions. 55. Fourth, data on use of the Internet to prevent illegal trade may also be useful in attempts to understand the scope of the problem. For example, recent research by RENCTAS, a nongovernmental organization devoted to combating illegal trade in wildlife in Brazil, described its success in using the Internet to convert animal trafficking from an unknown and un-quantified issue to a high-priority item on the national policy agenda 21. Equally useful may be discussion of the potential impact of new initiatives, such as electronic permitting, on the rate of wildlife crime. 56. Finally, input from law enforcement agencies with experience in other areas of Internet crime may offer valuable experience and practical solutions, particularly with regard to monitoring and prosecution. For example, the United States Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center, serves as a vehicle to receive, develop, and refer criminal complaints regarding the rapidly expanding arena of cyber Commission for Environmental Cooperation Illegal trade in wildlife: A North American perspective. Montreal: CEC. ( Clarke, George R. G. & Wallsten, Scott J. (2006). Has the Internet increased trade? Developed and developing country evidence. Economic Inquiry, v. 44(3): (An earlier version of this paper was published as World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3215, February 2004 and available from www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/wdscontentserver/wdsp/ib/2004/04/20/ _ /rendered/pdf/ wps3215 internet.pdf) Giovanini, Dener. (2006). Taking animal trafficking out of the shadows: RENCTAS uses the Internet to combat a multi-billion dollar trade. Innovations, v. 1(2): CITES E-commerce workshop p. 9

10 crime 22. It gives the victims of cyber crime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities to suspected criminal or civil violations. RECOMMENDATIONS 57. Parties may wish to discuss the following actions and activities during the upcoming workshop on Internet and wildlife trade: a) The need for scientific research on correlations between use of the Internet and the rate of wildlife crime; b) Issues related to raising the political priority of wildlife crime; c) The need to increase institutional and public awareness with regard to the use of the Internet and illegal wildlife trade; d) Lessons learned from enforcement agencies involved in other aspects of Internet crime; e) Development of Internet codes of conduct that may be adapted by national authorities; f) Examples of good practices and successful monitoring and enforcement activities; g) Consistency of definitions when discussing Internet crime; h) Capacity building workshops on issues related to electronic commerce and illegal wildlife trade; i) Issues related to using the Internet to facilitate legal wildlife trade, including electronic permitting; and j) Discussion and clarification of legal issues related to prosecution CITES E-commerce workshop p. 10

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