12 Dec 2016

Legal innovators hack into hate-crimes with new tool

The winning concept from LexisNexis' recent 'Hack the Change' Hackathon uses Snapchat to help link victims of homophobic and transphobic abuse with legal professionals.

Stefano Tinti

The event, hosted by LexisNexis and The Human Dignity Trust, asked hackers to come up with innovative new ways to help connect individuals in the LGBT+ community with those documenting and fighting online harassment and abuse. ‘We passionately support combating hate crime by progressing the rule of law globally,’ said Amy Carton, LexisNexis’ lead for Hack the Change. ‘Right now, people around the world are routinely attacked, threatened or intimidated simply because of who they are. This results in the oppression of entire communities. 75 countries currently criminalise the lives of LGBT people, representing approximately 40 per cent of the world’s population. This will not be solved overnight – but timely reporting and documenting of these crimes is a vital first step.’ Amazon Web, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Hogan Lovells and Osborne Clarke were all supporters of the event.

Winning design

Of the more than 40 coders, designer and developers who participated in Hack the Change, one team stood out. The brainchild of ‘Suitcase Hackers’, the winning design was a documentation and messaging service embedded within photo-sharing application Snapchat that allows witnesses and victims of hate-crimes to confidentially upload photos, screenshot and other media to cloud storage as evidence. All uploads remain confidential and can be accessed and verified by lawyers and others working to tackle hate-crimes, such as NGOs. The tool embeds into Snapchat in the form of a ‘contact’, making it hard to detect if a person’s phone were searched and thus protecting the safety of the user.

Human Dignity Trust legal director Téa Braun commented: ‘Timely documentation of human rights violations is a major factor in fighting such violations, but there is a critical gap to be filled especially from areas that are insecure and inaccessible. There is a need for a tool that allows LGBT people, NGOs and allies to document and tell stories that might not have otherwise been told. We are excited at the prospect of a tool being developed to help fill this gap and to get relevant information to the attention of those who can help.’ 

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