The Coronavirus Pandemic or COVID-19 has forced millions of people to stay at their homes over the past two months. It has created havoc on the economy and the health system. The lockdown has forced millions of people to work from home.

Under the lockdown, many courts have taken steps so that the court proceedings should not come to a standstill and is least affected by the lockdown. Among all these situations, conducting court proceedings with the help of a video conferencing app has emerged as a highly favored measure.

However the court proceedings on the zoom app are highly unsafe. This has brought to light various privacy issues that plague video conferencing operations. Multiple courts including Bombay High Court, Gujarat High Court and Kerala High Court have chosen the zoom videoconferencing app for conducting their proceedings. Some of the courts have made the proceedings open to the public without any password protection or any security steps. The users on zoom are increasing at a high rate. Data shows that it was 10 million users in December. In March the value raised to 200 million users and to 300 million users in April.  Multiple data security and cyber safety flaws have emerged in the zoom application. As per the reports, it has issued the advisory stating that the use of the zoom app is not safe for government offices. Security experts around the world have described zoom as a “privacy disaster” even as the company saw a 535% increase in page traffic on the downloading page. Currently there is no comprehensive data protection that has come into force in India.

Zoom’s privacy policy mentions complying with a legal obligation such as detecting, investigating and stopping fraudulent, harmful, unauthorized, or illegal activity. It also states that data may be disclosed while responding to a valid legal process, including jurisdiction. It informs us that its policies regarding compliance with a valid legal process preclude cooperation where a government does not have jurisdiction. It may also disclose data where it is reasonably necessary to preserve its legal rights.

Home Ministry itself had earlier issued an advisory stating that zoom was “unsafe and vulnerable to cyber attacks”. Not only for Government offices, but the Ministry also advised the private users to not use the zoom app as it is highly unsecure. Many countries have taken action against the zoom app. After multiple incidents, the Taiwanese Government has banned the use of zoom app for official purposes, Singapore has also banned and similar strict actions were also taken by the multiple countries including the USA and Germany.

In this context, the decision of Courts to choose a zoom app for the court proceedings is highly unsafe despite all the security issues. It is highly advisable that courts should immediately discontinue the proceedings on the zoom app and should choose more secure platforms for the proceedings.

ZOOM APP’S SECURITY FLAWS

Many flaws had been discovered while using the zoom app. It has been sending user data to Facebook without being informing the user and without the permission of the user. A report had recently claimed that Zoom is also prone to hacking. The ‘Zoom client for Windows’ is vulnerable to the ‘UNC path injection’ vulnerability that could let remote attackers steal login credentials for victims’ Windows systems, TheHacckeNews had reported. The term ‘Zoom-bombing’ was also in the news. The term refers to the third-party members hijacking zoom sessions. The increased use of Zoom during the Coronavirus Pandemic as an alternative to face-to-face meetings resulted in widespread exposure to hackers and Internet trolls, who exploit and work around the application’s security features. While a Zoom session is in progress, unfamiliar users show up and hijack the sessions by saying or showing things that are lewd, obscene or racist in nature. The compromised Zoom session is then typically shut down by the host. Such incidents got so prevalent that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has to issue a public warning regarding the zoom’s security flaws. A former hacker for the national security agency, USA, discovered that a bug in the application could allow malicious persons to assume control over zoom’s microphone or webcam. Zoom doesn’t use end-to-end encryption.

HOW IT IS UNSAFE FOR THE COURTS

The highly sensitive nature of the court proceeding and the information exchanged should not be accessed by the normal people without the prior permission of the courts. Highly sensitive information may be stored in the computers and other devices of the court’s administration, staff and hon’ble judges puts all this at risk when the proceedings are held on zoom. The hackers could hack all the sensitive information from their systems and misuse them which is highly unsafe and puts the nation at risk.

CONCLUSION

There are many other safe and reputed video conferencing apps to conduct court proceedings rather than to use zoom for such purposes. Apps such as Microsoft’s Teams, Google Hangouts, Cisco Webex and many other can be used in place of zoom. While some other applications need a fee or subscription for its usage. Some more trusted alternatives to zoom should be used. Our hon’ble courts should take this into account and should be a bit more serious about cyber security issues.

Ayushi Verma is a student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University.


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