On January 4, The Tribune in Chandigarh reported how anonymous sellers over WhatsApp were providing access to Aadhaar data for a fee of mere rupees 500 via Paytm. Now, a first information report (FIR) has been registered against The Tribune newspaper and its journalist Rachna Khaira over the uncover of the loopholes in the Aadhaar database system which the Unique Identification of India (UIDAI) calls a ‘misreporting’.
However, after the reports by The Tribune, Sanjay Jindal, Additional Director-General, UIDAI Regional Centre, Chandigarh, accepting that this was a lapse, told The Tribune: “Except the Director-General and I, no third person in Punjab should have a login access to our official portal. Anyone else having access is illegal, and is a major national security breach.”
Today, the clueless UIDAI has sent a letter to the Editor of The Tribune with a questionnaire: a.)Whether it was at all possible for your correspondent to view or obtain Fingerprints and Iris scan of any person through the aforesaid access to UIDAI portal? b) How many Aadhaar numbers did the correspondent actually enter through the said login ID and password and whom did those Aadhaar numbers belong to?
According to a report in The Indian Express, a deputy director of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has registered an FIR, which also names Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar and Raj (all of whom were contacted by the Tribune reporter as part of the story). The FIR has been lodged per the crime branch’s cyber cell “under IPC Sections 419 (punishment for cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery) and 471 (using as genuine a forged document), as well Section 66 of the IT Act and Section 36/37 of the Aadhaar Act”. The FIR further says, “They (The Tribune and the reporter) have unauthorisedly accessed the Aadhaar ecosystem in connivance of the criminal conspiracy… The act of the aforesaid involved persons is in violation of (the various sections mentioned in the FIR)… Hence, an FIR needs to be filed at the cyber cell for the said violation.”
After the FIR filed against the newspaper, there has been strong echo of support in the favour of the journalist and The Tribune. Many techie, digital experts and criminal lawyers are are criticising the UIDAI move to target the media for the FIR against the reporter who worked in the public interest. However, the UIDAI official Twitter handle tweeted back to back two statements: “In the recent case of The Tribune’s report in which an FIR is filed, an impression is being created in media that UIDAI is targeting the media or whistleblowers or “shooting the messenger”. This is not at all true.”
“This is a case in which even though there was no breach of Aadhaar biometric database, it is for the act of unauthorised access, criminal proceedings have been initiated.”
The Patiala Media Club has condemned the registration of case against Tribune reporter Rachna Khaira. Nistula Hebbar of The Hindu has tweeted, “In a resolution passed in a meeting of club members, PMC terms this action as attempt to murder of fourth pillar of democracy. Seeks withdrawal of case and action against UIDAI officials.”
The Tribune had published, “It took 10 minutes in which an “agent” of the group running the racket created a “gateway” for this correspondent and gave a login ID and password. Lo and behold, you could enter any Aadhaar number in the portal, and instantly get all particulars that an individual may have submitted to the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India), including name, address, postal code (PIN), photo, phone number and email.”