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Professional Language Services Vital to Legal Rights

Volunteers, Machine Translations Increase Risks and Liability

WASHINGTON D.C. – Volunteer linguists and improper use of technology translate into problems for law enforcement worldwide, the head of the leading language industry association said today.
Hans Fenstermacher, CEO of the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), said the use of volunteer translators and computer translation tools impedes the legal process and adds unnecessary risk.

“Too many law enforcement institutions apply quick fixes to their linguistic needs, and the consequences can be dire,” Fenstermacher said. “In police situations it’s imperative to have professionally trained translators and interpreters. Otherwise, criminals may go free, testimonies can be misinterpreted, and lawsuits filed.”

Two years ago, prosecutors in Ohio were forced to drop aggravated murder charges because of errors in conveying rights to the Spanish-speaking suspect. Earlier this year, the 9th U.S. Court of Criminal Appeals overturned marijuana and weapons convictions against another Spanish-speaking suspect because the word “free” was incorrectly rendered by a non-professional as “at liberty” instead of “at no cost”.

In Denmark, police used machine translation to misconstrue a Kurdish man’s harmless message as a terrorist threat, and five Hispanic women recently filed a federal lawsuit against the New York City police because no interpreters were available to respond to their abuse calls to 911.

“The examples are countless. They occur in every jurisdiction worldwide, and the potential for liability is enormous,” Fenstermacher said. “It’s particularly tragic because, with the right approach, translation errors are completely avoidable. Professional language assistance is readily available in many cases locally, and always via the web.”

GALA strongly urges law enforcement organizations to engage trained, professional linguists. “Volunteers may speak a language natively, but that’s nowhere near enough to qualify them for law enforcement work. Lives may literally hang in the balance,” Fenstermacher said.


About GALA

The Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) is the worldwide voice for the language industry and a resource for the language business. The association supports its members and the language industry by creating communities, championing standards, sharing knowledge, and advancing technology. GALA is the world’s largest localization trade association, with members in 60 countries. www.gala-global.org.

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