Governments and politicians have failed to respond to the current refugee crisis, and that’s being made painfully prominent by the fact that 65 million people had been forced from their homes last year. However, where governments fail, private citizens and ingenuity can help. Joshua Browder’s DoNotPay has proved this with a robot lawyer who gives refugees free legal advice.
According to the Guardian, the chatbot aids refugees through Facebook Messenger by asking them a series of question to determine which forms they have to hand in and whether they are eligible for asylum protection. The robot lawyer also uses the information to automatically fill out forms and send them in on behalf of his ‘clients’.
Currently, the robot lawyer helps refugees to navigate the legal systems of three countries in simple English, but Browder says that the forms can often be overly complicated. Starting before Trump’s election, Browder added Canada in at the last minute due to the changes in the political climate in the US. The chatbot is now able to fill in immigration applications for the US and Canada and give asylum support in the UK.
This is not Browder’s first endeavor with his “world’s first robot lawyer,” last year the robot lawyer made a name for itself by successfully contesting 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York. The then 19-year-old Browder announced that he was working on ways to make the AI lawyer be able to help refugees navigate foreign legal systems.
Browder told the Guardian that the newly added function of the robot lawyer was long overdue and that he’d been trying to launch it since last summer:
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.
Browder is aware of the issues that come with using Messenger, such as its lack of end-to-end encryption, but he chose Messenger because its used by over a billion people. Browder has taken measures to improve the privacy of the users by making end-to-end encryption between his server and Facebook along with automatic deletion of personal information once applications are sent.
In the future Browder hopes to increase accessibility even further, by providing service in Arabic and other languages and possibly expanding to WhatsApp. It’s clear that smartphones have become a vital survival tool for refugees and their importance will only increase with Browder’s chatbot.
This new feature, in light of the robot lawyer’s earlier successes, gives hope to refugees and will possibly be able to help a number of people to start new lives in safety.