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E-Courts Project - Phase III

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June 10, 2021

What is the issue? 

  • The e-Committee of the Supreme Court recently released its draft vision document for Phase III of the e-Courts project.
  • It is felt that Phase III should harness technology for service delivery without increasing surveillance risks.

What was the e-Courts project?

  • The e-Courts project is monitored by the e-Committee.
  • Phases I and II had dealt with digitisation of the judiciary.
  • They carried out e-filing, tracking cases online, uploading judgments online, etc.
  • The job is not complete, particularly at the lower levels of the judiciary.
  • But the project can so far be termed a success.
  • Especially during the pandemic, despite some hiccups, the Supreme Court and High Courts have been able to function online.

What does Phase III plan for?

  • For the Phase III, there are plans to upgrade the electronic infrastructure of the judiciary.
  • It also aims at enabling access to lawyers and litigants.
  • Importantly, the draft vision document goes on to propose an “ecosystem approach” to justice delivery.
  • It suggests a “seamless exchange of information” between various branches of the State.
  • This covers exchange between the judiciary, the police and the prison systems through the Interoperable Criminal Justice System (ICJS).

How does it work?

  • Each person's interactions with government agencies is integrated into a unified database.
  • This 360-degree profile creation approach is the main objective of Phase III.
  • While social media platforms and technology companies use this for targeted advertising, the government uses it for targeted surveillance.
  • Once any government department moves online, their pen-and-paper registers will become excel sheets, shareable with a single click.
  • Localised data will become centralised one.
  • The data collected, shared and collated will be housed within the Home Ministry under the ICJS.

What are the key concerns with this?

  • Data can be useful when it provides anonymous, aggregated, and statistical information about issues, without identifying the individuals.
  • But when combined with extensive data sharing and storage, data collection becomes a cause for concern.
  • The ICJS may thus exacerbate the 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.
  • Police stations have historically contributed to the criminalisation of some communities.
  • This had been possible through colonial-era laws such as the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871.
  • They have labeled such communities as “habitual offenders”.
  • Also, no clear explanation has been offered for why the Home Ministry needs access to some court data that may have absolutely no relation to criminal law.
  • This is of particular concern as the process serves no purpose other than profiling and surveillance.

What should Phase III ensure?

  • The objectives of the e-courts project were to streamline judicial processes, reduce pendency, and help the litigants.
  • But technology should operate within the constitutional framework of the fundamental rights and not lead to exclusion, inequity and surveillance.
  • For this, the e-Courts must move towards localisation of data, instead of centralisation.
  • The ecosystem approach should be reconsidered.
  • The e-Committee must prevent the “seamless exchange” of data between the branches of the state that ought to remain separate.
  • The Supreme Court must take care not to violate the privacy standards that it set in Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017), particularly when India does not yet have a data protection regime.

 

Source: The Hindu

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