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Florida Governor Expresses Concern That ‘Zoombombing’ Could Sabotage ‘Poll Tax’ Trial

Is it good idea to conduct court proceedings over the internet, through a video conferencing service like Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic? Is it feasible? Is it constitutionally sound? Is it safe and secure? That’s the subject of much debate in Kelvin Leon Jones, et al. v. Ron DeSantis, et al.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), one of the defendants, filed a notice on the state’s preferred method for trial on Thursday, expressing concern about “Zoombombing.” A Friday story in the New York Times succinctly set the stage for the issue at hand:

In recent weeks, as schools, businesses, support groups and millions of individuals have adopted Zoom as a meeting platform in an increasingly remote world, reports of “Zoombombing” or “Zoom raiding” by uninvited participants have become frequent.

While those incidents may have initially been regarded as pranks or trolling, they have since risen to the level of hate speech and harassment, and even commanded the attention of the F.B.I.

The Kelvin Jones lawsuit itself arose in the aftermath Florida’s Senate Bill 7066, which controversially required ex-felons to pay all court fines and fees before they could see their voting rights restored (this has often been called a “poll tax“). The DeSantis filing on Thursday expressed a number of concerns that a “trial on an electronic platform poses several unknowns—including potential problems with creating an adequate record.”

The defendants came up with five concerns (pay close attention to the fifth because it’s referring to “Zoombombing”):

First, counsel for the Secretary does not know whether an electronic platform such as Zoom can simultaneously accommodate all counsel for the parties spread throughout the State and indeed country; witnesses spread throughout the country; and members of the public who might be interested in attending these open court proceedings. Second, counsel for the Secretary does not know whether this type of electronic platform can maintain undisrupted two-way video and audio between the Court, counsel in separate locations conducting examination, and any counsel in yet other locations who might wish to object in real time. Third, counsel for the Secretary expects that examination concerning exhibits might be difficult even after best efforts to resolve objections beforehand. Fourth, counsel for the Secretary is concerned about the availability of support staff to assist with any malfunctions during an ever more restrictive COVID-19 quarantine. Fifth, counsel for the Secretary remains concerned about possible security flaws in popular electronic platforms like Zoom. platform open to the public. The FBI seemingly shares these concerns, especially for a platform open to the public.

The fifth concern included a footnote and hyperlink to the ABC News story, “After ‘Zoom bombings’, other incidents, FBI warns of videoconferencing hijacking amid coronavirus.” The plaintiffs were not convinced.

“Fifth, security can be addressed by utilizing internal Court Video Conferencing or the “Seminar” mode in Zoom which allows you to limit who is commenting or participating,” their filing answered.

The court docket notes that a hearing by videoconference, presumably covering this issue, has been set for Wednesday, April 8.

Zoom was actually sued as recently as this week for allegedly violating users’ privacy. Per the filing:

Zoom … has failed to properly safeguard the personal information of the increasing millions of users of its software application (“Zoom App”) and video conferencing platform. Upon installing or upon each opening of the Zoom App, Zoom collects the personal information of its users and discloses, without adequate notice or authorization, this personal information to third parties, including Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”), invading the privacy of millions of users.

You can read the DeSantis filing below.

DeSantis ‘Zoombombing’ filing by Law&Crime on Scribd

[Image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.