New Delhi: The Delhi Police closed a 2018 case lodged against The Tribune newspaper and its journalist Rachna Khaira after the daily had carried a story exposing a racket “selling” Aadhaar numbers on WhatsApp, the Indian Express has reported
The Delhi Crime Branch, which had been probing the matter, filed a closure report before a Delhi court stating that there is no enough evidence to probe the matter further and hence sought the closure of the first information report (FIR) filed in the case.
On January 3, 2018, Khaira reported on how she had been able to access personal details of anyone among the billion-plus people who had submitted their details to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in the process of getting Aadhaar cards by just paying Rs 500 to an “agent”. The personal details included name, address, postal code, photo, phone number and email address.
Two days later, on January 5, 2018, an employee of UIDAI’s logistics and grievance redressal department, B.M. Patnaik, lodged a complaint against Khaira and two others, Anil Kumar and Sunil Kumar, mentioned in the report. The complainant said that Khaira had purchased a service from both the “agents” to have unrestricted access to the data of over a billion people in possession of UIDAI.
“The above-mentioned persons 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,” the Indian Express quoted from the FIR.
The FIR was lodged at Crime Branch’s cyber cell under Sections 419 (punishment for cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery), and 471 (using as genuine a forged document) of the Indian Penal Code, as well Section 66 of the IT Act and Section 36/37 of the Aadhaar Act.
Police initially concluded that the agents in question were using the login ID of the Surat district collector’s office in Gujarat to access the information, and an outsourced staff posted in the Collector’s office had shared the Aadhaar portal page with agents. It was also revealed that the portal page had also been shared with someone with Rajasthan.
However, the police after further investigation concluded that there was no illegal access, and noted that they had sought legal opinion which mentioned that sharing a page link is not illegal. Therefore, a closure report has been filed before a Delhi court.
The Tribune carried a story titled “Rs 500, 10 minutes, and you have access to billion Aadhaar details” mentioning how criminals had been accessing Aadhaar data, and how the data of UIDAI was prone to misuse:
“It took just Rs 500, paid through Paytm, and 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.
What is more, The Tribune team paid another Rs 300, for which the agent provided “software” that could facilitate the printing of the Aadhaar card after entering the Aadhaar number of any individual.”