Government

Right to Investigative Reporting at Stake Says Tribune as UIDAI Files FIR Over Aadhaar Leak Story

The UIDAI's decision to file charges against the newspaper's reporter has been condemned by the Editors Guild and press clubs across India.

People in queues for Aadhaar registration. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: The Editors Guild of India has criticised the registration of a first information report (FIR) by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) against a correspondent of The Tribune for filing a report that exposed how personal data associated with Aadhaar numbers was being sold by anonymous sellers over WhatsApp for as little as Rs 500.

The guild said UIDAI’s action against The Tribune reporter was “clearly meant to browbeat a journalist whose investigation on the matter was of great public interest.”

“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,” a statement issued by the Guild said.

The statement was signed on behalf of the guild by its president Raj Chengappa, who has earlier also served as editor-in-chief of The Tribune, its general secretary Prakash Dubey and treasurer Kalyani Shankar.

The Editors Guild has also demanded that the concerned Union ministry intervene and have the cases against the reporter withdrawn while conducting an impartial investigation into the matter.

During the course of her interaction with middlemen who offered entry to the Aadhaar database for a fee, Khaira obtained easy access to details that individuals had listed in their Aadhaar cards. After the report, the UIDAI had in a statement denied that any data breach was possible.

UIDAI registered an FIR against Rachna Khaira, a reporter of The Tribune, at the crime branch of the Delhi Police and the correspondent has been charged under sections 419 (punishment for cheating under impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery), 471 (using a forged document) of the Indian Penal Code apart from certain sections of the IT Act and the Aadhaar Act.

On Sunday, The Tribune’s editor-in-chief, Harish Khare said the newspaper would take all legal steps to defend its “freedom to undertake serious investigative journalism”.

The media fraternity in Chandigarh is also up in arms against the UIDAI’s move to implicate the journalist in the case for exposing lacunae in its security systems related to Aadhaar. The Chandigarh Press Club termed UIDAI’s action of lodging a police complaint against the correspondent as one that amounted to “shooting the messenger”.

“Instead of taking action against people who were involved in data breach, the government agency preferred to lodge an FIR against the reporter, who exposed the loopholes in the system,” it said in a statement.


Also read: What UIDAI Needs To Clarify After the Latest Aadhaar Data Leak


 

To register its protest against the action of UIDAI, the Chandigarh Press Club has also decided to hold a meeting at its premises in Sector 27 at noon on January 8.

UIDAI’s response

The UIDAI has responded to the allegations of unfairness against the FIR and has issued issued a statement saying that it “respects free speech including the freedom of press and media.” It said its act of filing an FIR with full details of the incident “should not be viewed as UIDAI targeting the media or the whistle-blowers or ‘shooting the messenger’.”

Explaining the rationale behind the FIR, it said:

“It has to be understood that whenever a crime is noticed, the concerned person is required to report in the form of FIR (First Information Report) to police in which the entire details of the crime and the incident have to be disclosed to the police. The full details of the incident as available need to be provided with the names of persons known or unknown connected with the incident in the FIR complaint so that police or the investigating agency can take up full and fair investigation and bring the culprits to justice.”

The UIDAI insisted that “it does not necessarily mean that everyone mentioned in the FIR is a culprit unless after a thorough and fair investigation the person is charge-sheeted and proved to be guilty beyond doubt in the court of law.” However, what the authority could not explain was why the reporter was being shown as an accused and not a witness to the entire episode.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre had come out in support of the UIDAI calling the story fake:

Meanwhile, the Congress has attacked the Centre for targeting the story and the journalist instead of rectifying its own faults. Party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said instead of investigating the Aadhaar data leak, the Modi government was shooting the messenger.

The Left parties have also criticised the action against the reporter. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury criticised the BJP government for it and noted that “Aadhaar is a compromised system”.

Join The Discussion