Friday, March 22, 2013

Hello, are you a human?

As courts increasingly introduce online services a key question is whether the Internet connected user is an actual person to validate the action?


First, before getting started there is a massive amount of action occurring in state legislatures regarding court technology.  We recommend that you run… not walk… to our companion blog, Gavel to Gavel to see the latest in legislation and funding for these efforts.  A particularly interesting post includes a recent Texas state legislature hearing on E-filing fees.

Now, on to the subject du jour.  On February 14, 2013, PC Magazine published a fascinating article titled: “Are You A Human? CAPTCHA and Beyond”.  Most of us in dealing with online services have seen and responded to questions requiring us to retype words or combinations of characters that have displayed as an image and obfuscated in some manner as shown in the graphic below.  This is known as CAPTCHA which is a humorous acronym said to mean “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Now courts have used this technology to verify online access to court records, e-filing, payments, and responses to jury questionnaires.  But increasingly software script “bots” have become more sophisticated in “reading” these displays.

The PC Magazine article notes several new alternatives that provide CAPTCHA functionality.  One option provides a short simple game.  In the example shown in the article one matches the garden seeds with the row they are to be planted in requiring the user to drag the package to the row.  You can play with a demo by clicking here.

Other options noted in the article displays a “swirled” picture that one corrects and then enters the text that you can now read.  And another uses a series of pictures that can easily be identified.

We recommend that you check these ideas out for potential application in your online Internet services.


  1. Great post! The majority of validation I have seen, are to make sure there is a human behind the request--but they do not catch if it is the real legitimate human making the request. So, what I mean--it could be a real human, but is it the human that is entitled to start the legal action on behalf of the human it proposes to represent or on her own behalf? Is it the "specific human" with the specific rights and authorities to do the action it is asking to be allowed to do on line? For example, assume I am ill and I appoint my favorite and most organized sister to be my power of attorney. I have an aunt who hates my sister--and second guesses everything she decides and helps me with. I ask my sister to bring a case for me as power of attorney. How will the court verify that is it really my sister with a real power of attorney, or my aunt who is just trying to make my sister with the power of attorney's life difficult and second guess all her decisions on my behalf? The captcha--will tell the court--it is a human--not a machine. But then, online how will the court know it is my sister and not my aunt that is efiling for my behalf. And if my aunt ends up efiling and then later it is determined she had authority to efile on my behalf, will that court record stay in my profile forever more, if it is a public action? As the world of efiling moves to the public at large--these issues will need to be resolved somehow. So thanks for sharing the more advanced verification tools. Very cool. I am a big fan of Louis Van Ahm--who created the Catchas. He is now working on some pretty cool massive scale collaboration to do translations of online content. Maybe the courts could experiment w/something like this to translate their public facing content?

  2. Thanks for the comment. You are quite correct that this is a deep problem that needs layers of solutions. And we have wrote about some ideas in this area here on the CTB previously. Check out: