Election Commission of India’s website blocked for users abroad

The site has not been available for voters and others abroad since late last year. 

April 18, 2024 11:14 am | Updated 12:54 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) displayed outside the office of the Election Commission of India, ahead of general elections, in New Delhi on April 15, 2024.

Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) displayed outside the office of the Election Commission of India, ahead of general elections, in New Delhi on April 15, 2024. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap

The Election Commission of India (ECI)’s website has been blocked outside India for months. The impacted sites include the ECI’s landing page, its voter registration portal, and its Right to Information portal. The results portal, which reports the outcome of all polls the ECI administers, remains accessible. The Emirati daily Khaleej Times first reported last month that the website was inaccessible to the sizable Indian diaspora in the UAE.

The ECI declined to comment on the reasons for blocking the website. However, government websites are typically geofenced for security reasons, said Nemo, an information security researcher who goes by a pseudonym online. Nemo has studied “geofencing” of Indian government websites in the past, and in 2020 created a proxy service for users located abroad to access Indian government websites, something he said has been used by researchers who needed to access Rajya Sabha records, which are also geofenced.

Also read | How to check for your name in the voter list 

Geofencing is a “security by obscurity” measure, which allows those running websites to evade the most direct forms of cyber attacks from abroad by being fully inaccessible. “In reality, it doesn’t do much to avoid actual nation State attacks or data breaches,” Nemo argued. “These sites are badly archived, since most internet archiving efforts are run outside India. [This] harms researchers, historians, and general access to information.”

Indeed, the Wayback Machine run by the Internet Archive, the largest non-profit service that saves copies of large swaths of the internet’s webpages over time, has not been able to save a copy of the ECI’s website in months. Geofencing makes search engines also less effective at indexing these pages and turning them up in results, while good-faith security researchers are prevented from flagging vulnerabilities while probing sites from abroad.

Voters abroad

While India does not generally allow postal voting or polling at diplomatic missions for civilian voters abroad, non-resident Indians (NRIs) are eligible to vote at their home constituency if they bring their passport along with their voter registration to their polling station.

The Representation of the People Act was amended in 2010 to allow NRIs voting rights. A quarter of the roughly 1 lakh voters that were registered under this facility returned to India for polling in the 2019 Lok Sabha general election. Voters who are currently located abroad do not have access to voter registration data about themselves.

Nemo flagged “obvious accessibility concerns for Indians outside of India, or even foreigners outside of India who need to use Indian Government services” in geofencing of websites like the ECI’s.

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