Starting April 15, 2020, all meetings of creditors in chapter 13 cases in the EDKY will be conducted via Zoom videoconferencing services. This practice will continue until further notice. In this post, I will address some general concerns you might have about using Zoom for 341 meetings. In the next post, I’ll get into the details about how we will schedule, notice, and use Zoom.
“Do debtors have to be in the same location as their attorney?” No. That’s one of the reasons we are doing 341’s by video, to protect the health and safety of all parties during this pandemic. It is also more cost-effective and time-efficient than attending meetings in person.
For these video 341 meetings, parties will stay at their homes or offices and use the Zoom app on their own devices. The parties need a video camera (smartphone camera; webcam) that is connected to the internet (through cellular service, wi-fi, or other connection), and the Zoom meeting app. Joint debtors may use the same device (sitting side by side in front of the same webcam for example) or use different devices from different locations.
“My clients are technologically challenged and will not be able to do this.” That may be true for some debtors. But let’s try this and measure the success or failure on actual results, not on assumptions. Anyone with a smart phone can download the Zoom app. Some attorneys already communicate with clients via Skype, Facetime, or other service. Some debtors are already adept at video calls to see their grand-babies or to talk with family and friends overseas. If there are debtors who have the technology tools but are unable to use them, we will address those on a case-by-case basis.
“My clients don’t have internet access.” Sadly, not all Kentuckians have been granted access to adequate, reliable, and affordable internet and cellular services, especially those in rural and mountainous regions of the state. And there are some people who cannot afford to have a smartphone or computer. As we discover why debtors are not able to participate by video, we can make alternative arrangements on a case-by-case basis for conducting the 341 at a later date.
“Zoom isn’t secure.” Well, neither are our 341 meeting rooms. Federal courthouses have metal detectors to provide physical security, but there are no restrictions on who can attend a meeting of creditors or most court hearings. The date, time, and location of a 341 meeting, along with the debtor’s SSN, are printed on paper that is mailed to all scheduled creditors. Is Zoom any less secure than our current process for scheduling and conducting 341 meetings in consumer bankruptcy cases?
Don’t misunderstand me: We might not be talking about national security or trade secrets, but conducting a 341 meeting by video in a way that is respectful and protective of the rights and needs of parties who have an interest in the case is extremely important.
Well publicized “Zoom-bombing” incidents where third parties take control of a Zoom meeting and display inappropriate content usually occur when Zoom Meeting ID’s are made public. We will not be publicly disclosing Zoom meeting codes for our 341 meetings. Each case will have a unique, randomly-generated Meeting ID. In addition, a password will be required to join a meeting. Only the debtor, debtor’s attorney, and any creditor who contacts my office to request permission to join a meeting will be given the meeting ID and password.
There are other security measures we have implemented to reduce the risk of someone taking over a meeting or installing malware on a user’s computer or stealing a user’s login credentials. Our meetings make use of a “waiting room,” which gives the trustee’s 341 representative control over who will be admitted to the meeting. Other risky features of Zoom (like chat and screen sharing) have been disabled for our meetings.
There are reports that because Zoom is so popular, hackers are transmitting malware through fake emails that appear to be related to Zoom meetings. Therefore, for the present, I will not include hyperlinks to Zoom meetings in the email notices I send to attorneys or creditors. If you receive an email with a link to join or reschedule one of my meetings, assume it is not safe to click on the link.
In terms of personal privacy, although users are required to download a Zoom app on their phone or other device, they are not required to sign up or subscribe to Zoom or to provide their email addresses or anything other than their names. After the meeting is over, they may uninstall or delete the Zoom app.
I cannot guarantee that a Zoom 341 meeting will not be hacked or zoom-bombed, but I believe I have taken reasonable precautions to reduce the risk. I have explored alternatives to Zoom, but Zoom is the only videoconferencing service that chapter 13 trustees are authorized to use at this time. I want to try video 341’s in the hope that we can use them more frequently even after the pandemic. Think of the cost- and time-savings. But for now, if we have problems with Zoom, we will find a Plan B.
My next post will explain the procedures for scheduling, noticing and conducting our 341 meetings via Zoom.