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How AI Visionary David Hasman Helps the International Criminal Court Set Justice in Motion

JC Steinbrunner

One of the satisfying things about the Relativity community, as with any deep relationship, is witnessing the growth and successes of people you’ve worked with over the years—people like David Hasman. Dave’s origin story is the stuff of Relativity lore: A lit support manager at the Columbus, Ohio law firm of Bricker & Eckler, Dave attended Relativity Fest. Inspired by a session on Relativity’s open APIs, he retired to his hotel room and began tinkering. Fast forward a couple years, and he’d garnered three Relativity Fest Innovation Awards.

His technical curiosity took him places. In 2019, Hasman joined the United Nations to manage the information systems of UNITAD, the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability Against Da’esh/ISIL Crimes. Now at the International Criminal Court in charge of the ICC’s e-discovery and data analytics function, we caught up with Dave to learn about his journey, how e-discovery helps tell the story of some of humanity’s most egregious crimes, and how artificial intelligence assists in bringing justice around the world.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

JC Steinbrunner: Tell us about the ICC and your role there.

David Hasman: The International Criminal Court is the only permanent international criminal court, and was established about 20 years ago via the Rome Statute. Generation of the court was based upon the many different first and second generation Tribunals and designed to establish an independent, permanent institution to uphold international justice of criminal laws. It focuses on three main areas: crimes against humanity; genocide; and war crimes and the crime of aggression.

The creation of the ICC represents a significant milestone in the evolution of international criminal justice, as it provides a standing forum for addressing such crimes and seeks to deter future atrocities. Not every state in the world is a member of this court; today there are 123 members. In the grand scheme of things, the ICC is actually fairly new in the world.

If you look back over the last 15 years of activity, most of the situations and cases that have been introduced in the ICC have dealt with historical situations or not-active situations (. Data types for those were much different; but now, moving to today, what we're seeing are newer situations such as those in Myanmar, Libya, Ukraine. Those are active situations, and their technology and evidence handling needs are completely different. I think this is one of the reasons technology is playing such a role in our footprint now.

If you look back even nine or ten years ago at the discovery market within the States or any Western country, the buzz in that world was to figure out how you were going to process data. It was really figuring out the nuts and bolts of your protocols and procedures. When you look at where the international criminal world is, considering the types of international crimes this court looks at, we haven't had large-scale cases with that type of evidence until more recently. Now, though, those cases are introducing those same challenges that may have been already solved in the private sector to a degree.

Still, the ICC has a history driven by technology and has simply followed a path from one thing, to another, to another. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in the right place at the right time to join that history.

I lead the e-discovery and data analysis team for the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, and that team is responsible for post collection of evidence that comes into the office, handling that information, making it searchable, making it usable, as well as its ultimate disclosure either in our internal courts or in jurisdictional courts around the world. Our team basically accelerates the whole review process, so our main focus right now is to figure out how we can build out better ways to analyze and search complex data.

In our cases, we need to look at satellite imagery, intercept data, radio and cell traffic,  movements, and ONIST data—the type of data for which you really have to look at supporting material, documents, or multimedia data to see how you correlate the facts of a situation.   

So you're taking all these different systems and shuffling their data into one narrative, to help you understand what happened when.

Yes, that's what we're trying to do. It's a challenge, but bringing a visual component of the crime scene to the courtroom—really putting together a story to visually show how things have happened and when—is important. It’s putting virtual reality in the center of it. Civil cases usually don't have to do that; fighting over terms and conditions or something of that nature doesn’t require putting the judge or a jury in the middle of that video. But in these cases, we have to show how something played out, and what the impact was.

As an American, having worked at an American law firm and now being a head of e-discovery for ICC, what's your perspective on how the justice system works at an international level?

It's so fascinating. It's completely different, but similar in so many ways. The daily work is similar. We use the same technologies and the same practices, right? But upon making a switch from a private sector law firm to international criminal law built on an international standard—the impact of that work on you as a person is profound.

I've been fortunate to go out to some of these sites where these crimes have been committed, and it hits you. Similar to how, if you're working for a litigation firm on an insurance claim, the ads look great. But if you go out there and you see the children and families impacted by what has happened, it's different.

I think the impact of our work isn't just on the law. The law is what binds it all together, but it's the human factor of justice that I see so clearly now. And it's unfortunate that sometimes the rest of the world doesn't really see it or know what's going on behind the scenes. These stories may not be at the top of the news channel every single day, but it’s there for me. Especially when I was working in Iraq—you go to these communities that were completely destroyed, but the children  are still playing out in the middle of nowhere. You realize it's making a difference. And it hits you differently. I don't think I could ever go back to the private sector; however, my journey is far from over, so let’s see.

Let's talk about how AI helps with all that. Probably in the gathering and sequencing of data, but how does it help in building your cases?

There are a couple of facets to it, right? Things like machine translation or audio transcription or speech-to-text tools have been around as an AI component. But then you have other ones that go through evidence collections, even automating the identification of social media accounts and identification of words and analytics on a platform.

Ideally, we love to prevent situations from happening. But when you go and collect a million records, or five million records, what in the world are you going to do with all of it? What do you do with these videos that we collected, as an example, from Iraq? We had over two-and-a-half years of consecutive video. So what do you do with it?

You simply need to use AI technologies to get through that. And ultimately, this use of technology actually helps prevent crimes like sex trafficking and child abuse. It helps identify red flags and warnings much, much, earlier, so we can try to enable that prevention.

What do you think that ongoing integration of AI is going to mean for how you do your work, and how the ICC prosecutes its cases? What does the future hold?

The future is bright for the court. We have a lot of open field greenery to explore, so we're building the plane as we fly to do what we need it to do. Ultimately, our biggest strategic goals with the use of technology are around one theme: ingest more data.

We want to be able to ingest more data, and make actionable decisions upon that data to get evidence into our courtroom (or local jurisdictions’ and member states’ courtrooms) faster. This work will speed up the time frame from start to finish of an investigation or case. The only way that we're able to do that is, in large part, through technology—with AI. And, of course, with a very talented staff behind those implementations.

I want to be very clear that AI like this is not a button you just push. You need skilled staff behind it, who really understand what it can do and how to implement it well. But at this point, the use of technology is a critical commodity—it is like water and gas and electricity. In fact, the ICC has opened up a trust fund dedicated just to the advancement of technology within the court. So it's not going anywhere for us.

The ultimate goal is justice—to bring a little bit of hope to people and communities. To send the message that no one is above the law.

JC Steinbrunner is the senior director of brand at Relativity and the executive producer of On the Merits, a docuseries that explores how the Relativity community uses technology to find truths in data that promote just outcomes in important current events.