The Perils of “Zoom Justice”

The Perils of “Zoom Justice”

Excerpted from The Crime Report story by Sarah Esther Lageson

As COVID caused massive shutdowns of traditional in-person institutions, courts were faced with a dilemma. Facing severe backlogs if the courthouse doors were closed, courts quickly shifted to Zoom-based proceedings.

Today, you can watch hundreds of livestream court events — many on YouTube—ranging from felony arraignments to traffic ticket hearings to family court proceedings. For the defendant or witness, this is a welcome change. Going to court no longer requires a person to find childcare, take time off work, or risk exposure to COVID. However, they must now contend with their name and image broadcast across the internet.

Streaming court proceedings uses the same logic as the decision to release court documents on the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Rooted in virtues of transparency and accountability, the argument is that anything you might witness or access in person by visiting court should be similarly available on the Internet.

These are laudable goals. However, the turn to digital access had the unintended consequence of creating digital punishment: a phenomenon where the collection and release of digital criminal justice information creates permanent online stigmatization for millions of people arrested or processed through U.S. courts each year.

Due to a blend of permissive public records laws that allows the release of pre-conviction and in-process case information—as well as a private market built on re-sharing and selling this information across extortion sites and background check services—millions of people have a tarnished digital reputation simply because they were processed through the court system.

You can read the full story here.

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