The Supreme Court (SC) has sought the response of the Union government on a plea seeking a ban on the use of Zoom application, citing privacy and security concerns.
Zoom app, which is owned by the US-headquartered company, Zoom Video Communications, enables video conferences and online chat facilities. The use of the platform is free for video conferences of up to 100 participants with a 40-minute time limit. For longer or larger conferences with more features, paid subscriptions are available.
The petitioner, Harsh Chugh, who is a part-time tutor, told the apex court that the sudden boom in the use of Zoom application because of the lockdown restrictions, which were imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease outbreak, has severely compromised cyberspace security, as personal data of its users are being routinely leaked.
“Poor privacy and security of the application have enabled the hackers to get access to the meeting, classes, and conferences being conducted online through this application. Zoom is reported to have a bug that can be abused intentionally to leak information of users to third parties,” the plea said.
Chugh prayed that there should be a ban on the use of Zoom for both official and personal purposes until an appropriate law addressing data security issues is put in place.
A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, issued notice to the central government in the matter.
The petition pointed out that the Zoom application saw exponential growth in its users from 10 million in December 2019 to 200 million in March 2020 due to the pandemic-induced lockdown restrictions.
The petitioner alleged that the application has made false claims that its calls are end-to-end encrypted.
Chugh also alleged that Zoom practices data hoarding, including mass storage of users’ personal data.
“Zoom was capitalising off the pandemic by selling users’ information to Facebook without their consent. Zoom is sending the data it collects from the computer of its users even if they weren’t logged on to a Facebook account,” the petition said.
It was also contended that the application causes a serious violation of the right to privacy which is a fundamental right, under Article 21 of the Constitution.
“Zoom is reported to have a bug that can be abused intentionally to leak information of users to third parties. Zoom pedals its products knowing that hackers are accessing users’ webcams, exposing them to extreme invasions of privacy,” it added.
On April 1, the ministry of home (MHA) affairs through its cyber coordination committee had issued an advisory on the secure use of Zoom by private individuals. This advisory stated that the platform is not for use for official purposes.
The petitioner pointed out that various high courts across the country are still using the application, despite the MHA advisory.
“The Bombay high court recently decided to live stream hearing on a trial basis. The bench of Justice GS Patel made the hearing of listed matters on April 9 publicly accessible. The hearing in the court of Justice Patel could be accessed by anyone and everyone via the Zoom application. Similarly, the Kerala high court has also started live-streaming of court hearings through this application,” the plea stated.
It was also submitted that the Zoom founder and chief executive officer, Eric S Yuan, had accepted the fact that his company was not prepared for the influx of novice users.
“It’s not safe to conduct these conferences through an application, which has already been banned in several countries over security issues. The founder of the application has himself accepted that it has certain bugs leading to leakage of data and making it easy for hackers to access them,” the plea added.