By: Gabrielle Gravel
On the heels of a global shutdown in the wake of COVID-19, courthouses all over the country turned to technology to keep their very full calendars in motion. The solution was to move the myriad of required hearings and in some cases, even jury trials, to the now commonplace Zoom platform. By moving court to Zoom, the judicial branch has been able to reduce foot traffic in normally packed courthouses and still meet the requirements of due process and equity. In this move, incarcerated defendants can “appear” in court via a webcam in the jailhouse, attorneys can represent their clients without ever meeting them in person, and judges can sift through a hundred cases in a day. While this solution has helped tremendously to support social distancing measures, the impact on privacy in these proceedings is cause for concern. To uphold constitutional integrity, criminal court hearings are to be open to the public, and by live streaming directly from Zoom to YouTube, the judiciary can maintain this canon of the criminal justice system. Typically, an interested party would need to schlep it to the courthouse, take off work or find childcare, and maintain courtroom etiquette while observing court. The people attending such hearings had enough interest in viewing the proceeding that the costs related to physically traveling to the courthouse were outweighed by the benefit of actually being there. In this new era, anyone with internet access can stumble upon an American criminal court livestream and tune into some of the most personal (and juicy) information in a defendant’s life. Court websites containing streaming links warn spectators not to record any aspect of the streaming and Judges snap at defendants and witnesses not to share personal information such as names and addresses, but we are only human, and precious information is now being broadcasted to an incredibly wider audience than ever imagined by the Framers. While judges are still working out the various kinks in such a system, this blog argues that there are not enough safeguards in place to protect the privacy of these individuals and will offer an array of safeguard solutions for a safer Zoom Courthouse.