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Coronavirus lockdown: Fear of data security over video-conference apps Indian courts use

Dipak Mondal     May 7, 2020

A petition has been filed against the use of video conferencing apps by Indian courts during the ongoing coronavirus lockdown. K N Govindacharya has filed the petition in Supreme Court, which has also been using a video-conference app for urgent hearings. Govindacharya says these apps are owned by foreign companies and pose a data security risk. Govindarcharya points out that the terms of use of these apps mandate transfer of data outside India. This data can be commercially exploited, he warns.

He further says that the transfer of data, especially governmental and judicial data outside India impacts national security and contravenes many laws in India. They include the Public Records Act, 1993, the Official Secrets Act, 1923, the Email Policy as well as Policy for usage of IT Resources of the Government of India.

He says the government and the judiciary should use video-conferencing software provided by the National Informatics Centre (NIC). In case NIC does not have such sophisticated software, then it should audit a suitable one from a private vendor for the government and the judiciary.

According to data compiled by Govindacharya and his team, VidyoMobile is the most popular video conferencing app followed by Zoom, among Indian courts. Many high courts junked Zoom for either VidyoMobile or some other app after the controversy over its security features. The reason for VidyoMobile's popularity could be because the Supreme Court also uses the app.

The Supreme Court in the standard operating procedure for virtual hearing issue on 15 April specifies that "the matters will be heard by through web-based video-conferencing system on the VIDYO platform hosted on the servers of National Data Centre of National Informatics Centre, Government of India".

VidyoMobile app is owned by Enghouse Systems, a Toronto, Canada-based Software Company. Zoom is a US-based company. WhatsApp, Skype and Jitsi Meet are some of the other popular video conferencing apps used by the courts. Delhi High Court uses Cisco Webex for virtual hearings.

Meanwhile, legal fraternity feels they need a dedicated technology for judiciary. Mamta Binani, a lawyer, says there is a need for a dedicated technology that is exclusively designed for the judiciary. She says apps like Zoom and Jitsi have a limited utility, and cannot be used in the long-term.

Many lawyers point out problems faced in conducting hearings with these apps. Vineet Naik, a senior Bombay High Court lawyer, says: "I feel then the technology on this is still not up to the mark. The courts are using certain types of apps like VidyoMobile and Jitsi (Meet). When a lot of people log into this, the system often crashes."

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