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Supreme Court issues notice to Centre on PIL seeking a ban on the use of Zoom app for official and personal purposes

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today issued notice to the Centre on a PIL seeking ban on the use of Zoom app, which is owned by a US based company, over security and privacy concerns.

The Bench led by CJI SA Bobde and comprising Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy today issued notice to the Centre and the matter will be taken up next after 4 weeks.

The petition was filed by a homemaker Harsh Chugh who sought banning the use of the app for official and personal purposes on the grounds that the software gives rise to several privacy and security concerns.

The Zoom app is available free of cost on all app stores and can be used on phones, laptops, tablets etc. For the purposes of hosting video calls, meetings, webinars and such, Zoom has emerged as one of the most used applications in the recent times.

In this backdrop, various news reports emerged highlighting security and privacy breaches caused by the Zoom app on some occasions. In this regard, the PIL filed in the Supreme Court said,

"It is pertinent to point out that the CEO of the respondent no.3 has already apologised publically and has accepted the app to be faulty in terms of providing a secure environment digitally which is against the norms of cyber security."

The security issues have a pan-India effect and are of an urgent nature, the petitioner said, adding that owing to the lockdown, a representation to this effect could not be made. However, since the government has recognised the threat posed, it is familiar with the subject matter of the instant petition, it is said.

Another issue raised by the petitioner pertains to the allegation that Zoom engages in data hoarding of the private user data and that it "stores cloud recordings, instant messages, files, whiteboards, etc." In, this regard it is stated that a new trend has been observed, also called as Zoombombing, where unknown and unauthorised persons sometimes join a Zoom session and carry out indecent activities.

The petition also goes on to say that the app has a bug which can help in unintentionally leaking personal data. It is claimed by Zoom that it is an end-to-end encrypted platform, but it is not so, the PIL contends. It said,

"Zoom falsely advertised end-to-end encryption. While many companies are prioritizing people over profits to fight COVID-19, Zoom is prioritizing profits over people. Zoom was capitalizing off of the global pandemic by selling user information to Facebook without user consent. Zoom compounds this felony by falsely advertising that its software is equipped with end-to-end encryption."

The usage of the app has increased unexpectedly amid the global pandemic and even the CEO of the company had admitted that the company was not ready for such a rise in user influx. The app is neither prepared nor is it able to handle the sudden rise in the number of its users, the PIL adds.

The app violates right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution, the petitioner contends further. In this regard it is submitted that data collection, storage and access without letting the user know is "nothing but infringing their fundamental right of privacy."

"The base line of privacy in cyberspace still remains blurred but it is nothing but a fact that data protection in cyberspace is the most essential form of privacy one seeks while accessing the internet and if an app cannot even assure its consumers of such data protection and rather sends out the data, it is the safest to ban such app."

PIL said

Therefore, the petitioner sought directions for the government to carry out an exhaustive technical study into the security threats posed by the use of the app and to ban its use until a legislation is brought in place.

The PIL was moved by one Harsh Chugh, drawn by Advocates Nimish Chib and Divye Chugh and filed by Advocate Wajeeh Shafiq.

Read the Order:

Harsh Chugh vs UOI - SC Order - 22.05.2020.pdf
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