An online robot lawyer designed to help people overturn unfair parking tickets has been adapted by its creator to help migrants claim asylum in the U.S., Canada, and Britain.
DoNotPay, a chatbot developed by 20-year-old Stanford student Joshua Browder, has already helped overturn more than 160,000 parking tickets and assisted homeless people in accessing sheltered accommodation.
But as of Monday morning, it can be used by asylum applicants wanting to file claims. All the applicant has to do is answer a series of questions posed by the chatbot on Facebook messenger. For those in the U.S. and Canada, the application is automatically filed on their behalf. Asylum seekers in the UK will be helped to apply for asylum support.
“I originally started with parking tickets and delayed fights and all sorts of trivial consumer rights issues, 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,” Browder told Business Insider.
“So I’ve since tried to expand into something more humanitarian.” His site also helps people to disclose their HIV-positive status to partners in a recordable format, as non-disclosure is a criminal offence in some countries.
But the challenge of filing immigration applications was more complex.
“There’s this huge problem among immigration lawyers where the majority of their time is spent filling out forms rather than actually challenging the legal complexities of the case. So what this does, it takes down hundreds of details from individuals and automatically fills [them] out,” he explained.
British-born Browder says he chose Facebook Messenger as the platform because of its huge reach. “It works with almost every device, making it accessible to over a billion people,” he told The Guardian.
The drawback to Messenger is that is it not automatically end-to-end encrypted, a problem Browder has got around by installing end-to-end encryption between his server and Facebook. He added: “Ideally I would love to expand to WhatsApp when their platform opens up, particularly because it’s popular internationally.”
Meanwhile, all data is destroyed by the bot within 10 minutes of the application being sent.
Browder says he originally intended to launch the site last summer, but delayed the rollout because he wanted to be certain he had the details ironed out.
“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.
“That took months and months of work, but we wanted to make sure it was right.”
The delay allowed him to add Canada into the mix, following Trump’s election. “I wanted to add Canada at the last minute because of the changes in the political background in the US,” he said.
The next step, Browder explained, is to roll out the app in Germany “if I have time”. He is also working on translating it into Arabic.