Chatbot That Helped Beat $4 Million In Bogus Parking Tickets Now Handling Asylum Applications

from the small-solutions-for-larger-problems dept

Last year, 19-year-old UK student Josh Browder released a chatbot called "DoNotPay" that assisted drivers in challenging parking tickets. It was a small program with a huge upside. The bot's legal guidance -- in the form of yes/no questions -- resulted in more than $4 million in tickets being dismissed.

Chatbots are no replacement for lawyers, but almost no one seeks legal help when dealing with parking tickets. That's probably why law/traffic enforcement agencies feel comfortable issuing so many bogus ones. DoNotPay not only saved UK residents millions of dollars, it also proved the ticketing system was fundamentally broken. More than 64% of the 250,000 tickets challenged were overturned.

Browder was hoping to apply his chatbot AI to other legal issues -- narrowly-focused areas where legal help might be appreciated, but without the chance of severely screwing up someone's life if the chatbot led someone down the wrong path.

Browder’s next challenge for the AI lawyer is helping people with flight delay compensation, as well as helping the HIV positive understand their rights and acting as a guide for refugees navigating foreign legal systems.

It's the last one on the list receiving attention this year. Immigration law is an incredibly-dense legal thicket where wrong moves can mean finding yourself stranded in a country that doesn't want you or forcibly returned to the country you've been trying to leave. Brower's chatbot -- running through Facebook messenger this time -- isn't going to put immigrants in awkward positions, though. Instead, it's much more in line with DoNotPay: something that provides helpful assistance to make an often-confusing experience easier to tackle, but without the potential downside of someone wishing they'd spoken to an actual lawyer instead.

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

After this, it takes down the necessary details required for the appropriate asylum application – an I-589 for the United States or a Canadian Asylum Application for Canada. Those in the UK are told they need to apply in person, and the bot helps fill out an ASF1 form for asylum support.

If the program fails, nothing is made worse. The person seeking asylum is still stuck in the country they're trying to leave, but they're not sitting in a customs holding cell awaiting deportation. (At least, one hopes not. The best case scenario would be to apply for asylum before arriving, rather than after.)

Browder is also doing everything he can to protect users. The information obtained to autofill applications is only stored long enough to be transferred and deleted within 10 minutes of the app's use. The chatbot can also put users in touch with legal representation if requested.

This bot's success will be much more difficult to enumerate, but it's building on Browder's past successes. Since the debut of DoNotPay, Browder's legal assistance bots have helped UK citizens obtain reimbursement for delayed planes/trains and helped homeless individuals seek emergency housing.


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  • icon
    mhajicek (profile), 13 Mar 2017 @ 5:31pm

    Looking forward...

    I'm still waiting for IBM's Watson to try to tackle the US legal system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2017 @ 8:30pm

    If I were funnier

    I'd come up with a Darl McBride / Watson dialogue. In the end, it would be Darl that would throw a program exception.

    Oh, wait...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 14 Mar 2017 @ 12:52am

    Hope the aim is right.

    Namely making sure that the applicant is volunteering that kind of information which is actually relevant for the asylum process either way. If it does that, it will actually help with reducing potentially lethal mistakes, both for applicants using the bot and for other applicants whose applications require more time to corroborate and get properly evaluated in the light of initially insufficient material than otherwise would be available.

    If it just renders the first layer of applicant processing ineffective by trying to make every applicant pass independent from his actual situations, it will be a step backwards.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Mar 2017 @ 2:44am

      Re: Hope the aim is right.

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

      The aim is true, your comprehension skills, I'm not sure about.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Al, 14 Mar 2017 @ 10:53am

    fight!

    I congratulate Browder for having developed a tool with which you can fight the ongoing attacks on people by the governments. They all have immunity, so it's a good defense measure for their reckless legislation. The bots needs to be expanded.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Al, 14 Mar 2017 @ 11:35am

    10 day data retention with Facebook? No way.

    Browder may throw away the data after 10 days, but Facebook being Facebook certainly doesn't. This creates privacy concerns. Though I suspect it was done with the best intentions. Refugees often have a smartphone, but no notebook or other gear. Doing it via Facebook Messenger is easier for users and less hassle for the developers, because they don't need to create a graphical interface.

    Anyway it's great to see one person stepping up against bad legislators. They would deserve punishment but unfortunately they are immune (clever hack). So I consider Browders actions very important in the light of adverse governments and their servants. More of the bots, please!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Furby Gremlin, 17 Mar 2017 @ 7:59am

    I'm a little late to this party, but some things need to be cleared up.

    From the article: "If the program fails, nothing is made worse. The person seeking asylum is still stuck in the country they're trying to leave, but they're not sitting in a customs holding cell awaiting deportation."

    I-589s can be filed only if the applicant is IN the US. Doing so can have extremely negative consequences if you are not properly advised before filing. Denied I-589s are referred to immigration court for removal proceedings (assuming the applicant is not in proceedings already).

    Obtaining refugee status abroad, which is distinct from asylee status in the US, is an incredibly difficult and long process (that does not involve form I-589). Unless this chatbot has a direct line to the UNHCR, this will not help anyone get refugee status.

    I don't want to get into the immigration law weeds on this. I'll just say, as an immigration attorney, I find this a little frightening.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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