Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has said that he has been receiving various emails from students abroad, who have complained that they are not able to access both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha websites. The statement from Ramesh comes amid allegations by Opposition parties, including Congress and Trinamool Congress, that the government tried to block Parliament coverage as members were discussing crucial bills like agri reform bills and labour codes in the House.
Ramesh claimed that he has found that both the websites have been "geofenced for a month" till mid-October due to "contentious suspicious attacks". "I have been receiving emails from students abroad that the Rajya Sabha website can't be accessed. On checking I'm informed both LS & RS websites have been geofenced for a month, till mid-October, due to 'continuous suspicious attacks', and therefore can be accessed only from India," the Congress leader tweeted.
Former union minister of law and justice Ashwani Kumar also reacted to the tweet, indicating it was not "surprising", to which Jairam agreed. The Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha are yet to come out with a statement on whether it's technical glitch or the website has been blocked for access abroad.
Meanwhile, this has caused a massive social media uproar amid allegations that the government is trying to censor Parliament coverage to pass controversial laws. Upon checking, some users from outside India have claimed that the Rajya Sabha website is not accessible in countries including the United Kingdom and the United States. Some users also claimed that it's accessible in Canada. Some said that though the RS TV is accessible in the US, the website says it 'can't connect to the server'.
I have been receiving emails from students abroad that Rajya Sabha website can't be accessed. On checking I’m informed both LS & RS websites have been geofenced for a month, till mid-October, due to ‘continuous suspicious attacks', and therefore can be accessed only from India.— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) September 24, 2020
Not so quickly. From US,https://t.co/f5my33u1zh is accessible https://t.co/eSt1XESd9u is not.— Srujal Patel (@SrujalP) September 24, 2020
The clarification could be genuine and restrictions might be necessary to prevent some malicious activities. pic.twitter.com/eZVTKL85Vl
Some Twitter users hailed the government decision, saying China is using cyber attacks against India amid escalating border tensions along the Line of Actual Control. However, some said banning the government websites access can't be the solution and instead, the Centre should focus on improving tech infrastructure.
TMC MP Derek O'Brien, during the passing of the key farm bills in the Upper House on September 20, had also accused the government of censoring the Parliament hearing. He accused the BJP of breaking "every rule of Parliament". "It was a historic day, in the worst sense of the word. They cut RSTV feed so the country couldn't see. They censored RSTV," he said.
What is geo-fencing
Geo-fencing is a location-based service that allows an app to use GPS, Wi-Fi and RFID or radio-frequency identification to carry out a pre-determined action. Its main applications are blocking access to websites, mobile push notifications, sending timely alters and tracking of activities. Apart from security, it's also used in telemedics, smart appliances and social networking.
Chinese cyber attacks on the rise
There have also been multiple reports of Chinese hackers trying to attack Indian government websites. The United States Department of Justice in a report this week said that five Chinese hackers wanted to target Indian government websites. The accused, who were charged in the US, also targetted over 100 companies in the US and various activists in Hong Kong. These concerns have raised suspicions that the Chinese may be using their tech capabilities to dismantle critical digital infrastructure in India.
The Twitter account of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's website was hacked this month with a series of cryptic tweets being posted on the account by a group claiming to be John Wick. The account has now been restored.
Parliament adjourned sine die
The Upper House of Parliament was adjourned sine die on Wednesday this week. The Upper House was adjourned eight days ahead of the scheduled end of the Monsoon Session amid concerns of the spread of coronavirus among lawmakers. The Monsoon Session, which started on September 14, was set to continue till October 1.
In total, the Upper House had to hold 18 sittings but only 10 could be held. Despite fears of coronavirus, the 10-day session was productive and as many as 25 bills were passed. The MPs also introduced a total of six bills.
Also read: Monsoon session: 10 days, 25 bills passed