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Chatbot lawyer offers free legal advice to refugees

Tue 7 Mar 2017

Asylum applications

A chatbot which helped to overturn 160,000 parking fines has now been updated to provide free legal advice to refugees claiming asylum in the U.S., Canada and the UK.

The lawyer robot, DoNotPay, developed by Stanford University student Joshua Browder, was launched on the Facebook Messenger app in 2015. The entrepreneur first created the bot to help people challenge parking ticket fines in New York and London.

‘Ultimately, I just want to level the playing field so there’s a bot for everything,’ said Browder. ‘I originally started with parking tickets and delayed fights and all sorts of trivial consumer rights issues,’ he continued, ‘but then I began to be approached by these non-profits and lawyers who said the idea of automating legal services is bigger than just a few parking fines.’

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 12.07.36The lawyer bot is programmed to asks a series of questions in real-time to assess applicant eligibility in accordance with international law. The system can then help refugees to complete the required immigration forms and automatically send them on behalf of the applicant in North America. In the UK, where applications must be made in person, the chatbot is able to help refugees apply for asylum support.

Browder noted how asylum application forms can often be complicated and that the new AI bot can help users understand the requirements using straightforward language and a simple interface.

For now, the lawyer bot is available via the Facebook Messenger app, making it accessible to the majority of Android and Apple device users. Browder hopes to roll the service out to more languages and apps in the future, including Whatsapp.

While the 20-year old is aware of the limitations of the Messenger app, including the lack of end-to-end encryption, he argues that it reaches over a billion people and that he has ensured high levels of encryption between his server and Facebook. The bot also automatically deletes personal data once the user has completed their application.

Speaking on the new venture, immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn said that the technology would help to streamline the application process for both asylum seekers and lawyers: ‘I can see the major benefits that leveraging sophisticated chatbot technology will have in the asylum application process. It will be easier for applicants to submit their applications and it will empower legal aid organisations to assist a larger numbers of clients. Asylum seekers want to follow the laws and do everything properly, and this technology will help them do so.’

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