Chatbot that helped overturn 160,000 parking fines now helps asylum-seeking refugees

Chatbot DoNotPay has been modified to help refugees fill in an immigration application in the US and Canada.
Chatbot DoNotPay has been modified to help refugees fill in an immigration application in the US and Canada.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON - A chatbot that claims to be the "world's first robot lawyer" is now helping refugees find a home in a new country.

DoNotPay, which was created by Stanford University student Joshua Browder, made headlines in June last year when it successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets across two cites - London and New York - over a 21-month period.

The program took on 250,000 cases and had a success rate of 64 per cent appealing over US$4 million (S$5.65 million) of parking tickets.

According to The Guardian, the London-born Mr Browder has since modified DoNotPay - which now communicates with users via Facebook Messenger - to help refugees fill in an immigration application in the US and Canada.

It also helps those in the United Kingdom apply for asylum support.

Calling the update to his program a "long overdue" one, Mr Browder, 20, said he had been trying to launch it for six months but was delayed as it was a complicated issue that required legal advice.

He said in an interview with The Guardian that work on the update started before Mr Donald Trump's election as US President.

"I wanted to add Canada at the last minute because of the changes in the political background in the US," he added.

How it works: the chatbot asks the user a series of questions, and determines which application is needed and whether a refugee is eligible for asylum protection under international law.

It then takes down the details needed to file the correct application. Once the application is sent, the data is destroyed from its servers within 10 minutes.

Facebook Messenger was chosen as the home of Mr Browder's updated robot lawyer due to its accessibility, he explained.

After DoNotPay's success, it was programmed to handle other legal issues, such as claiming for delayed flights and trains, housing matters and payment protection insurance.

These days, Mr Browder admitted that his studies at Stanford have taken a backseat as he is busy with his chatbot.

"My degree has become a bit of a side project these days," he told The Guardian.