Robot Lawyer Helps Asylum Seekers


The creator of a chatbox, which was responsible for overturning more than 160,000 parking fines and helping vulnerable people apply for emergency housing, is now setting its sights on a new legal mission, training the bot to help refugees claim asylum.


The original “Do Not Pay” created by Stanford student Joshua Browder, describes itself as “the world’s first robot lawyer”, giving free legal aid to users through a simple-to-use chat interface.


The chatbot, using Facebook Messenger, can now help refugees fill in an immigration application in the US and Canada. It also helps refugees in the UK apply for asylum support as well.


The London-born developer worked with lawyers in each country, as well as speaking to asylum seekers whose applications have been successful to find out how he can use his lawyer bot to help with the asylum application process.


Browder says this new function for his robot lawyer is “long overdue”. “I’ve been trying to launch this for about six months, I initially wanted to do it in the summer. But I wanted to make sure I got it right because it’s such a complicated issue. I kept showing it to lawyers throughout the process and I’d go back and tweak it,” Browder said in a statement.


Browder began working on this project before Donald Trump’s election as US President, but now feels it’s more important now than ever. “I wanted to add Canada at the last minute because of the changes in the political background in the US,” he said.


The chatbox works by asking the user a series of questions, to determine which application the refugee needs to fill out and whether a refugee is eligible for asylum protection under international law.


After this step, it takes down the necessary details required for the appropriate asylum application.


Browder says it was crucial the questions were in plain English. “The language in some application forms can be quite complicated,” he said.


Then the details are used to auto-fill an application form for either the US, Canada or the UK. “Once the form is sent off, the details are deleted from my end,” Browder said.


Browder chose Facebook Messenger as a home for the latest incarnation of his robot lawyer because it’s easily accessible to anyone. “It works with almost every device, making it accessible to over a billion people,” he states.


Browder acknowledges Messenger doesn’t come without its pitfalls. Unlike some other chat apps, it’s not automatically end-to-end encrypted. However, there is end-to-end encryption between his server and Facebook. Browder added: “Ideally I would love to expand to WhatsApp when their platform opens up, particularly because it’s popular internationally.”


After the information is sent, the data is destroyed from his servers within 10 minutes of someone using the bot.


The next step is making the service available in more languages. Browder is currently working on translating it into Arabic.


Lawyers have said they can see the major benefits that leveraging sophisticated chatbot technology will have in the asylum application process.


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