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The transfer of data, which inevitably takes place as a result of use of foreign based video conferencing software, might assist an enemy or prejudicially affect national security, the application states.
An application has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking urging it to direct the government to provide NIC-approved or NIC-based infrastructure for video conferencing by Judiciary or government officials.
To this end, the application by KN Govindacharya also seeks amendment to the Supreme Court Rules of 2013 as well as the Rules of the High Courts, with necessary safeguards for hearings through video conferencing.
The applicant points out that all the Courts including the Apex Court have, by and large, remained shut since the nation-wide lockdown was announced to curb the spread of COVID-19 and that the hearings for urgent matters have been taking place only through video conferencing.
While the Supreme Court is using the VIDYO app, there are some High Courts making use of the Zoom app for conducting the virtual hearings. In this regard, the application says,
Such a transfer of important data like judicial and government-related data on to servers outside of India will impact the national integrity and security, the applicant submits, adding that the same contravenes the Public Records Act, 1993 and the Official Secrets Act, 1923, among other laws.
The attention of the Court is also drawn towards the advisory issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs against usage of Zoom app for video conferencing.
It is added that the Judges and government officials take an oath of secrecy which binds them not to divulge any pertinent information directly or indirectly. It is also pointed out that the transfer of government data without requisite permissions is not allowed under the law.
As a result of usage of the foreign based video conferencing software, several officials have become liable for punishment under the Section 9 of Public Records Act, 1993, which mandates imprisonment and fine.
The application states.
While any punishment against government officials is unwarranted right now, adequate solutions are needed to be developed to address the situation, the applicant states.
Making a reference to the images of Cabinet meetings held through Zoom app, as well as those of the Defence Minister with the Chief of Defence Staff through the same app, it is stated that these pose a threat to national security as these meetings contain crucial and critical details.
Therefore it would be ideal to use video-conferencing software provided by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) for the functioning of the Government and the Judiciary, the applicant submits.
In the absence of technology available with the NIC, it is submitted that facilities provided by a private vendor may be used, but after being audited and vetted by the NIC.
The application is drawn and filed through Advoctes Sachin Mittal and Gaurav Pathak.