What the Metaverse portends for Kenya’s Criminal Justice System

Access to JusticeDecember 7, 20210 CommentsKituo Cha Sheria

We have all heard about it and are trying to get our minds around it. Metaverse or Web 3.0

Experts say it is a virtual reality space where you and I will be able to interact just like we do in the real world. In essence, the metaverse is an intersectional of the real world and the virtual world and you will be able to interact in it through your avatars.

And far from it, Facebook is just creating a metaverse or platform and not the alpha and omega of it. Just imagine the feeling you get while playing a video game or reading a fiction story. That is the kind of immersion brought by metaverse, only that in this case you will feel present and be able to direct your actions and express your feelings without being controlled by an author or a programmer.

Surprisingly, we are already experiencing semi-immersive technologies through online meeting platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, partly driven by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Perhaps you are wondering how your feelings and actions will be captured. BigTech companies are already in a rush to develop the best forms of capturing this. You and I must have already seen the Virtual Reality (VR) head-gears, smart gloves or even the much talked about brain-chips. All these are geared towards ‘transferring’ your actions and emotions to a digital platform.

But what does Metaverse portend to Kenya’s Criminal Justice System?

Just like in our real world, the interactions in the Metaverse will have implications on criminal justice systems around the world, including ours. According to a paper Virtual Reality and the Criminal Justice System: New Possibilities for Research, Training, and Rehabilitation1 published in the 4th Volume of the 2011 Edition of the Journal of Virtual World Research; the increasing virtual reality systems can significantly benefit the criminal justice systems.

Through the paper, the researchers Bobbie Ticknor and Sherry Tillinghast, both from the University of Cincinnati argue that the criminal justice system can massively benefit in different ways and lead to huge cost reductions.

With dwindling resources and increasing correctional populations, virtual reality offers cost-efficient and effective means of addressing the diverse needs of the criminal justice system.1

Having gotten used to online court sessions already, Kenyans can only expect that the experiences will get better with metaverse. In this world, counsels, judges and all stakeholders will feel the experience of being in a real court room with the ability to move around the court room, engage others in a chat or even read the mood of others.

According to an article published by the global law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright2, the metaverse presents a situation where people will be able to log onto a meeting or court session simultaneously without a limitation on the number of participants.

This will greatly reduce on the costs of access to justice especially once the right infrastructure and socio-economic empowerment programmes are put in place.  

Metaverse hugely relies on a user data, and that explains the ‘data is the new oil’ phrase. As a country, we are still grappling with how to monitor and regulate social media in Kenya especially on matters privacy and intellectual property. Thus the metaverse might just get us into an even more complex situation.

For instance, out of your browsing history and social media activities, advertisers already can precisely predict what you would be interested in buying or which animal you are more likely to get as a pet. When you get to a Gucci store in the metaverse, you will find the exact colour of a shirt or dress that you like, making your work easy. Before you hop out of the store, you will find ads on a Beyonce concert coming up in the next few months.

Wait a minute! But how did they know your preference? Most likely your data is already being sold to multinationals who will build your profile in the virtual space. And this is where the legal profession comes in. With metaverse, there will be need to review the data protection laws and policies regulating on the inter-operability of the platforms. It is an area that legal experts and practitioners need to explore before the big dive.

Norton Fulbright Rose argues that the data mining will be much extensive with the metaverse:

Tomorrow, in the Metaverse, organisations will be able to collect information about individuals’ physiological responses, their movements and potentially even brainwave patterns, thereby gauging a much deeper understanding of their customers’ thought processes and behaviours2.

Still on trade, how will this be in the metaverse? Well, that is already taking place with users buying plots of land, building offices and paying for concerts in a virtual world. Like any other trade or business deal in the real world, you will need lawyers to ensure that your purchase of a piece of land in Kamulu is legally covered. However, in this case you will get a value that is recognized by others. Yes something like cryptocurrency but currently the most popular ones are non-fungible tokens (NFTs), fiat currency and e-money.

For instance, a digital art work (an NFT) by an American artistBeeple3 was sold for $69 million early 2021. It would thus be prudent for legal practitioners to evaluate this new frontier and embed it in the legal course work through Kenya School of Law (KSL) and the Judicial Training Institute (JTI) because sooner or later that world will be with us.

Besides trade, Intellectual Property Rights are another legal battleground with metaverse. If legal experts from Kenya collaborate with their peers in Britain to generate intellectual property rights, who will own the rights? Experts argue that joint ownerships and co-ownership of property rights are already complicated. Now you can imagine how that will pan out in a complex virtual world and where many stakeholders claim the rights.

Additionally, as we will be living in a virtual world, our behavior and vices will manifest. How will the National Police Service or the ODPP deal with a crime that is committed in the metaverse? As BigTech companies grapple with building the supporting environments, the criminal justice system stakeholders need to rethink crime prevention, litigation and detention in this new era.

Is the Kenyan Criminal Justice System ready for the metaverse?

Your guess is as good as mine.

In order to fully benefit from the new wave of metaverse, all stakeholders in the criminal justice system need to put in a few measures;

There is need for stakeholders to partner and collaborate to create the necessary infrastructure to support the operations of the relevant institutions in the metaverse. These may include setting up of fast and reliable internet connections and zero-taxation or reduced taxation on ICT gear supporting immersive technology.

With metaverse, there will also be need for capacity building sessions for criminal justice system actors on the emerging technologies. Cross collaborations will be vital in this aspect.

Finally, there is need to allocate adequate funds to support research and innovation in the criminal justice system in Kenya.

By Steve Biko Abuya – program officer, Kituo Cha Sheria

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