1) The promise and perils of digital justice delivery

GS 2- Judiciary & governance

Context: In the given article the author talks about Phase 3 of the e-Courts project , which can harness technology for service delivery without increasing surveillance risks.

What is the issue?

  • Indian courts are associated with the with long delays and difficulties for ordinary litigants.
  • According to data released by the Supreme Court in the June 2020 newsletter of the e-Committee, 3.27 crore cases are pending before Indian courts, of which 85,000 have been pending for over 30 years.
  • Technology helps only if it operates within the constitutional framework of the fundamental rights of citizens else it will,  further exclusion, inequity and surveillance.

The e-Courts project

  • The e-Committee of the Supreme Court of India recently released its draft vision document for Phase III of the e-Courts project.
  • Phases I and II had dealt with digitisation of the judiciary, i.e., e-filing, tracking cases online, uploading judgments online, etc.
  • Despite some hiccups, the Supreme Court and High Courts have been able to function online. This was made possible by the e-Courts project, monitored by the e-Committee.
  • Under phase 3 there is commitment to the digitisation of court processes, and plans to upgrade the electronic infrastructure of the judiciary and enable access to lawyers and litigants.
  • It propose an “ecosystem approach” to justice delivery. It suggests a “seamless exchange of information” between various branches of the State, such as between the judiciary, the police and the prison systems through the Interoperable Criminal Justice System (ICJS).
  • There are chances that the ICJS will likely exacerbate existing class and caste inequalities that characterise the police and prison system.
  • This is because the exercise of data creation happens at local police stations, which have historically contributed to the criminalisation of entire communities through colonial-era laws such as the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, by labelling such communities as “habitual offenders”.

A cause for concern

  •  When data collection is combined with extensive data sharing and data storage that it becomes a cause for concern. The Supreme Court must take care not to violate the privacy standards that it set in Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017).
  • Data is useful when it provides anonymous, aggregated, and statistical information about issues without identifying the individuals. This could be made possible in Phase III by encouraging uniformity and standardisation of entry fields.
  •  There has been a dangerous trend towards creating a 360-degree profile of each person by integrating all of their interactions with government agencies into a unified database.
  • This approach has been perfected by social media platforms and technology companies, and the government is now trying to do the same.
  • Integration with other agencies of local data is a cause of concern.
  •  When integrating data of the courts and police stations, the intersection lies with the individual citizen, since it is the citizen’s interaction with these branches of the state that is being monitored.
  • No clear explanation has been offered for why the Home Ministry needs access to court data that may have absolutely no relation to criminal law. This may lead to surveillance.

Role of technology

  • The objectives were to streamline judicial processes, reduce pendency, and help the litigants.
  • To continue to do that within the framework of our fundamental rights, the e-Courts must move towards localisation of data, instead of centralisation.
  •  e-Committee must prevent the “seamless exchange” of data between the branches of the state that ought to remain separate. Technology plays an important role in the project, but it cannot be an end in itself.

2) The murky space of ‘social audio’

GS 3 Science & Tech

Context: Clubhouse, a new social networking app based around audio rooms. the focus purely on audio-based interaction thus different from other apps like Twitter, Instagram etc.

The technology

  • The app neither has any separate texting features, nor the option to create elaborate online profiles, thus keeping the focus purely on audio-based interaction.
  • Users can also join various ‘clubs’, which are groups of members that share a common interest. After joining, users may get alerts for rooms hosted by such clubs.
  • A person can even start a club of their own, or ‘drop-in’ into any room mentioned on the Home or Explore page, as a listener or a speaker during a discussion.

Regulation challenges

  • Nature of the app raises a number of questions on privacy and security.
  • Audio rooms are likely to throw up new challenges for data regulators, who are yet to find effective ways to regulate traditional social media platforms.
  • Audio-based interactions are faster and in real time, mirroring real-life far closely than text-based interactions. Hence, traditional methods of content moderation may not work here.
  • An app like Clubhouse, cyberbullying and trolling, driven by sexism, racism and communalism, can be even more damaging.
  • The experience on Clubhouse, therefore, involves constant hyper-awareness about how every action is being broadcast to followers.
  • This is in contrast to popular platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and others, which, for all their flaws, allow browsing in relative invisibility. This awareness, along with a fear of being judged, might limit people from exploring the app’s content.
  • Concerns have been raised over how Clubhouse temporarily records the audio in a room while the room is live, “for purposes of investigating the incident”, and deletes it when the room ends. However, with the lack of end-to-end encryption, the data is still potentially accessible.
  •  Experts opine,the platform’s practices are violative of numerous provisions of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), including rules on security, proportionality and necessity principles and confidentiality of communications .
  • According to a report by the Stanford Internet Observatorythe back-end infrastructure of Clubhouse is supplied by a Chinese start-up called Agora. The report also mentions a possibility of the Chinese government accessing raw audio, as well as other security flaws.
  • India still lacks a stringent data protection law, and thus, its users are far more susceptible to data breaches and privacy violations.
  • The lack of end-to-end encryption in Clubhouse could thus make it an easy tool for government surveillance.
  • Clubhouse also seeks permission to access users’ contacts, which is a significant privacy concern, as it gives the app information about people who might never even join it in the first place.
  • There is no mechanism to control who can follow whom, which further affects privacy and contributes to the ‘harassment’ culture.

The big picture

  • The rise of Clubhouse cannot be studied in isolation. It is one of the several apps that have grown popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, as millions of people stuck in their homes look for new methods to communicate with each other.
  • It represents an attempt to innovate and provide an alternative to traditional platforms.
  • The e Big Tech will strive to protect their dominant positions in one of two ways — either by simply acquiring the potential competitor, known as a ‘killer acquisition’, or by copying the unique features of their competitor apps and adding them to their own platforms.
  • It remains to be seen whether such moves will affect Clubhouse, which was valued at $4 billion as of April 2021.


For the average user, Clubhouse might seem like a great, lightweight app with an innovative premise. But it does not offer much in terms of privacy and data protection, and in that sense, it is not very different from traditional platforms. Apps like Signal are an exception in this regard. While the market of ‘social audio’ is likely to soon become a battleground, the medium won’t truly progress until innovation is balanced with respect for privacy, security and data rights.


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