Video Conferencing Links Sharing Through WhatsApp Groups Prohibited By Supreme Court Of India

Legal and judicial systems around the world are slow in adopting information and communication technologies (ICT). This has resulted in a delayed implementation of various ICT and tech tools for judicial and legal purposes. It is not the case that we need sophisticated and expensive technology for these stakeholders. We can use tools as simple as e-mails and website chats to sophisticated artificial intelligence and machine learning based applications and usages. Nevertheless, lawyers and judges preferred to remain in their comfort zone thereby resulting in slow adoption of technology.

In this situation, Covid-19 struck the global economy and infrastructure. As nations were not prepared digitally to combat such a pandemic, many traditional govt services were disrupted. In India too there is a disruption of normal courts proceedings that have still not been normalised. But courts in India were quick to use video conferencing that they have been using for many years now. India is also implementing an ambitious e-courts project but its speed is too slow to make any meaningful impact. For instance, e-courts project of India was started in the year 2003 and after almost two decades we still do not have fully functional e-courts. We at Perry4Law Organisation (P4LO) have been working upon online dispute resolution (ODR) and e-courts projects since 2004 and we believe that successive Indian governments have been guilty of neglecting both ODR and e-courts for almost two decades.

Meanwhile, India is facing successive public protests due to policies decisions and controversial laws formulated by Indian govt. The latest in the list is the protest by Indian farmers against the recently enacted three laws that deal with agriculture and related issues. The farmer protests are largely mobilised in real world and in an online world. Twitter has been significantly and effectively used to gather support and put the version and opinions of farmers before the entire world. Indian govt was not comfortable at all when foreign celebrities and influencers started supporting Indian farmers as that seemed to be a well planned and coordinated support for Indian farmers and an opinion building against Indian govt. Govt cautioned Twitter to fall in line and after many ups and downs Twitter complied with the directions of Indian govt. But Indian govt realised that it needs more control and power over social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and other tech companies like Google and online contents providers. So it enacted and notified new rules named Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (Pdf) (Internet Intermediary Rules, 2021).

The Internet Intermediary Rules, 2021 would bring far reaching consequences for social media portals, tech companies, digital content providers, etc. The cyber law due diligence requirements have been made very stringent and their violation could prove costly. We at P4LO are analysing the Internet Intermediary Rules, 2021 and would share our analysis soon.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of India has decided to stop using WhatsApp groups to share video conference links for court hearings. The apex court registry in a circular (Pdf) said that instead of WhatsApp, the links for virtual court hearings in the apex court will be shared on registered email ids and registered mobile numbers of the concerned advocates-on-record and party-in-person w.e.f. March 1, 2021. The registry has cited the Internet Intermediary Rules, 2021 as the reason for such a change.

While the registry has cited the Internet Intermediary Rules, 2021 as the reason for such an action, it is not clear why such an action was taken and what benefit it would provide. It is also not clear whether the entire WhatsApp application and other social media applications would be excluded from judicial proceedings or it would be limited to VC link sharing only. But what is clear is that Supreme Court’s registry has implicitly declared the Internet Intermediary Rules, 2021 as constitutional and the registry should have avoided using the rules as the ground opines Praveen Dalal.