July 01, 2020 Article

Privacy and Confidentiality Tips for Virtual Hearings

A few considerations to keep in mind while you navigate the many logistical issues involved in remote court hearings.

By Cathy Krebs

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With more juvenile courts around the country convening virtually in response to COVID-19, court personnel and lawyers have a steep learning curve on how to ensure due process and navigate the many logistical issues involved in remote court hearings. Addressing privacy is one of the many new challenges they face, and while the platform used for remote court may vary by jurisdiction, there are some general steps that can be taken to address this issue.

  • Get to know the platforms. Become familiar with the settings and meeting configurations of a few of the common platforms, including options for privacy and security. 
  • Host or moderate. The host or moderator frequently has the most control over whether privacy settings are enabled in the platform. Where you are not in a position to host or moderate, be prepared to request basic confidentiality safeguards.
  • Practice. Whenever practicable, lawyers should test the platform with their clients, so they are familiar with how to enter the meeting and use the platform settings. This can help minimize the chances of technical disruptions, delays and stress from user error.
  • Use basic settings. Certain privacy settings are common across multiple platforms:
    • Use passwords or authentication to “lock” the call to only the invited participants.
    • Use waiting rooms and a unique meeting for your hearing to prevent other parties from joining a call in-progress (i.e., should a hearing run over schedule). Enable settings that allow the host to review and permit or limit entry from the waiting room.
    • Limit screen sharing to the host and disable file transferring unless necessary for the meeting.
    • Use the platform chat function only for written information intended to go on record unless you can confirm that the chat is encrypted and restrictions on saving, downloading, and recording are enabled. Be aware that some platforms may create chat transcripts as a default setting. Be sure that your client knows never to use the chat function during the hearing and instead set up a separate confidential way to communicate with them during a hearing.
    • Increased use and attention have led to ongoing discovery of weaknesses and bugs in teleconference platforms. Check to be sure all current updates and security patches have been installed before using the platform.

Privacy Considerations for Specific Platforms

Zoom

  • Utilize a one-time meeting and ID and password that is shared only with attendees. 
  • Disable the “join before host” function and enable the waiting room function. This will allow the host to approve attendees before they join the meeting.  
  • Utilize the “lock” function to prevent anyone else from joining the meeting once all invited participants have joined.
  • Be aware that the host of a Zoom meeting may record audio and video as well as access a record of any public chat logs, so do not use the chat function for communication between lawyers and clients.

GoToMeeting

  • Organizers may password-protect the meeting. 
  • Enable “meeting lock” to prevent anyone else from joining the meeting once all invited participants have joined. Anyone attempting to join after a meeting has been locked will be placed in a waiting room.
  • While GoToMeeting offers a chat function, be aware that you will need to select the audience for your chat message and that the default is often a message to all participants.

Workplace from Facebook

  • Set videoconferences as private events limited to invited parties.
  • Create accounts and logins separate from you or your client’s personal Facebook accounts and using a different email.

ClickMeeting

  • Create a password or “token-protected” event room. A “token-protected” event, where each participant receives a unique token, is the most secure, but will not work with the phone gateway enabled.
  • A waiting room may be enabled by the host at the time the meeting is scheduled.
  • Be aware that ClickMeeting permits recording and automatically stores recordings of meetings on the ClickMeeting platform.
  • The chat function may be disabled by the host.

Microsoft Teams

  • Disable “Anonymous users can join a meeting” to prevent anyone who has the meeting invitation from entering the meeting (under “Meetings” > “Meetings Settings” > “Participants”).
  • Be aware you can disable audio and video recordings for a Microsoft Teams meeting. This must be done before the call (turn on “Avoid Cloud Recording”).
  • Be aware that adding a new user to an existing private chat may allow the new user to see what was discussed previously in the chat.
  • Microsoft Teams can auto-transcribe video recordings.

Court Call

  • Calls should be made via landline phones, with the hand set engaged. Court Call prohibits the use of cell phones and does not recommend using speakerphone during the hearing.
  • Be aware that to make a video appearance on Court Call, you must have sufficient bandwidth and a working web camera connected to the computer that will be used for the appearance. You must also have: a flash player; up to date operating system; screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768; up to date browser.

WebEx

  • You may want to set your room to automatically lock when the meeting starts (Choose “0 minutes” in “Preferences” > “My Personal Room”). This prevents all attendees in the meetings’ lobby from automatically joining the meeting and lets you allow only authorized attendees into the meeting.
  • Organizers should lock a meeting once all attendees have joined.
  • Be aware that recordings can be made, and there is an option to password protect the recordings.

Adobe Connect

  • You may want to consider deleting a meeting room after each use. Be aware that reoccurring meetings in the same meeting room, if the meeting is not changed to “closed,” will allow attendees to enter the room at any time to view its contents.
  • Confirm before a meeting that you have a Flash-enabled browser or the Adobe Connect application for desktop—you will need one of these to participate in a meeting.

Google Meets (used to be Google Hangouts)

  • Create a separate Gmail account to use for Hangouts for business purposes.
  • Be aware to send encrypted meeting codes only to those who need access to the meeting—the encrypted meeting code allows an external participating to join the video meeting directly without requesting the organizer’s request to join.

Skype

  • Be aware that you may disable the search feature from your profile settings so your username does not appear in search results or recommendations.
  • Consider setting Skype messages “history” in settings to “no history” so that there are no saved details about your conversations in case your device is lost/stolen
  • Organizers may choose “Private Conversation” (lock appears next to tab of conversation) to hold a private conversation where the conversation will not appear in chats, file forwarded is disabled, and message editing is prohibited.

FreeConference

  • Organizers can lock a conference and block all other participants from entering by pressing *7.
  • Be aware that organizers can record audio and video calls and participants will be notified that the recording has started.
  • Note that all lines are unmuted by default, so you can control to mute all participants to reduce background noise.

Google Duo

  • Create a separate Gmail account to use Duo if you plan to use it across multiple devices and platforms for work purposes. Otherwise Duo will sync with your personal Gmail account and will add all of your personal contacts into the app.
  • Disable “Knock-Knock” (“Settings” > ”Call Settings”), a Google Duo feature that allows the person you are calling to see you before they pick up.

Google Voice

  • Be aware that Google Voice permits recording of call history and chats on the Google server.
  • Organizers have the option to enable “Call Screening” in Settings so they can determine how to handle a call. When a call comes through (and “Incoming call options” is enabled in settings), the organizer has the option to pick up the call, send it to voicemail, send it to voicemail and listen in live, or answer and record the call. Note that if “Call Screening” is enabled, callers will know they are dialing into a Google Voice number.

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Cathy Krebs is the director of the Children's Rights Litigation Committee. The author would like to thank Wenxi Li from DLA Piper for her research on the technology platforms.


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