The Editors Guild of India on Sunday issued a press release condemning the FIR filed by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) against The Tribune newspaper and its journalist who reported on the alleged Aadhaar data breach.
The Editors Guild said it was “deeply concerned” over reports that the Deputy Director of the UIDAI registered an FIR against The Tribune and its reporter Rachna Khaira in the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police.
“The Guild condemns UIDAI’s action to have The Tribune reporter booked by the police as it is clearly meant to browbeat a journalist whose investigation on the matter was of great public interest,” the editors guild said.
The release also noted that the journalist was booked under Indian Penal Code Sections 419 (punishment for cheating under impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery), 471 (using a forged document) and also under sections of the Information Technology Act and the Aadhaar Act.
“It is unfair, unjustified and a direct attack on the freedom of the press. Instead of penalising the reporter, UIDAI should have ordered a thorough internal investigation into the alleged breach and made its findings public,” the statement added. The guild also demanded the withdrawal of the case and urged the concerned Union ministry to intervene in the matter.
The UIDAI responded to the charges in a series of tweets:
In the 3 January report, Khaira claimed that access to any Aadhaar holder’s details could be gained, through a mere payment of Rs 500, via an anonymous service on WhatsApp. As per the report, the payment allowed the person to be designated as an ‘agent’, which in turn granted him access to the grievance redressal system.
UIDAI denied breach or leak of Aadhaar data. “The Aadhaar data, including biometric information, is fully safe and secure,” the authority said in a statement, calling the report in The Tribune “a case of misreporting”. “UIDAI assures that there has not been any Aadhaar data breach,” the statement said, adding that the data was secure with a “robust uncompromised security”.
The authority said it had given search facility for the purpose of grievance redressal to designated personnel and state government officials to help residents only by entering their 12-digit Aadhaar numbers. The grievance redressal search facility, the statement said, “gives only limited access to the name and other details and has no access to biometric details”. It said the authority maintains complete log and traceability of its search facility and any misuse was traceable.
However, when The Tribune had contacted the Additional Director-General, UIDAI Regional Centre, Chandigarh, Sanjay Jindal for a response, he reportedly expressed concern. Jindal said, “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