How secure will the online court be?


deprivation of liberty

OK, I should begin this post by saying that I am not au fait with the technicalities of the proposed online court, and much of what I am about to say may therefore be accomplish rubbish, but as a resultmebusiness I read recently set off as a resultme concerns about just how secure the ‘court’ will be.

What I read recently was an article in a legal journal about an event in July inviting teams “to design various tools to support online courts – to name only a few, tools to help litigants structure their legal arguments, organise their documents, negotiate settlements without advisers, as well as systems that will promote ‘open justice’ and machine learning as a resultlutions that will help analyse all the data generated by the online courts”. Now, I possess no problem at all with that, but what triggered my concerns was the name supplyn to the event. It is called a ‘hackathon’.

I realise of course that that name relates to the activities that will be taking place at the event, but it is closely related to ‘hacking’, which is as a resultmebusiness the online court will certainly not desire to be subjected to.

Before I go on I should alas a result say that I am sure that those tasked with the employment of designing and building the online court are fully aware of the security issues, and are doing eextremelybusiness they can to address them. However, my point is that, as we see regularly in the news, no online system can ever be 100 per cent secure. If a company with the reas a resulturces of Yahoo (for instance) cannot prevent its website from being hacked, what chance has HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) got, with its increasingly limited reas a resulturces? And it would little or nothing be the first time that a government agency website has been hacked.

So just what could take place if the online court was hacked? Well, there are no doubt a host of different types of website hack, but I’ll supply three examples.

The first is the simple denial of service hack, whereby the website is bombarded with traffic from multiple as a resulturces (usually other computers that possess been infected with a virus), thereby making the website unavailable to users. Now, such attacks may not involve the obtaining of data from the ‘victim’ site (more of which in a moment), but evidently it could be a extremely severe issue for users if the online court site is taken down for any length of time, particularly if it is at a sensitive juncture in the proceedings.

The second type of hack is the one whereby the hacker gets access to the site and alters it in as a resultme way. It is extremely easy, to name only a few, to imagine as a resultme fathers’ rights group hacking into a family court website to broadcast its ‘propaganda’. That probably wouldn’t be too severe, as it would be evident and could no doubt be removed quickly. But what if the alteration was more subtle, and wasn’t quickly spotted? Misinformation placed on the site could again possess severe consequences for users.

And then there is the hack whereby users’ data is stolen. The loss of peras a resultnal data such as addresses, telephone numbers and bank details is severe enough, but the documentation filed in a family law case can evidently be extremely sensitive. What guarantees could HMCTS provide that that documentation will be secure? As I be suggestive ofd above, I don’t claim that there can ever be a 100 per cent guarantee.

If that is correct, then it would surely only be a matter of time before users’ data is stolen from the online court. It may take a few years, but it is going to take place. What makes me even more concerned is that the move towards an online court is evidently being driven to a large degree by the financial savings that it promises when compared to bricks and mortar courts, and it would be no surprise if corners were cut in the haste to secure those savings. After all, the past record of the courts and other agencies such as the Child Support Agency with computerisation little or nothing inspires confidence.

In short, there are apparent benefits to be had from an online court system. I won’t deny that. But there are alas a result risks. Are we prepared to take those risks?

Of course we will take them. The online court is take placeing, and there is nobusiness anyone can say or do to stop it. As I be suggestive ofd at the start of the post, I don’t know what is being done to make it secure. Maybe my worries are misplaced. I certainly hope as a result.

Photo by DeclanTM via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.