UIDAI Files FIR Against The Tribune,Reporter Over Aadhaar Breach Story: Report

The FIR reportedly states that the journalist and her sources "have unauthorisedly accessed the Aadhaar ecosystem in connivance of the criminal conspiracy".

The Centre has extended the deadline to link details to the Aadhaar until March 2018. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The UIDAI’s tactic of filing FIRs against journalists and concerned persons has now become a pattern.  Credit: Wikimedia Commons

New Delhi: A first information report (FIR) has been registered against The Tribune newspaper and its journalist Rachna Khaira for a report that was published earlier this week on how demographic data associated with Aadhaar numbers was being sold by anonymous sellers over WhatsApp for as little as Rs 500.

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).

Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) Alok Kumar confirmed to Indian Express that an FIR had been lodged with 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”.

B M Patnaik, who works with the UIDAI’s logistics and grievance redressal department, is referenced as a complainant in the FIR, with his complaint stating: “An input has been received through The Tribune dated January 3, 2018, that the ‘The Tribune purchased’ a service being offered by anonymous sellers over WhatsApp that provided unrestricted access to details for any of the more than 1 billion Aadhaar numbers created in India thus far.”

According to the Indian Express, the FIR notes how the reporter got in touch with the other persons named in the FIR and goes on to state: “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)… Hence, an FIR needs to be filed at the cyber cell for the said violation.”

The Wire reached out to UIDAI and The Tribune’s editor-in-chief Harish Khare and will update this story if and when a response is received.

Earlier this week, The Tribune’s Rachna Khaira reported on how some of the UIDAI’s enrollment partners at the village level (village-level enterprise operators) were selling illegal access to the agency’s search facility which allowed authorised users to enter an Indian resident’s Aadhaar number and pull up the associated demographic information.

UIDAI strategy

In the past, when concerned individuals and journalists have sought to point out flaws in the Aadhaar enrollment process, the UIDAI has responded by filing FIRs.

CNN-News 18 for instance in early 2017 aired a segment showing how it was possible to obtain two separate Aadhaar enrollment numbers with the same set of biometrics. UIDAI Deputy Director Ramesh Kumar at the time justified the filing of an FIR against the news organisation and its journalist Debayan Roy by saying that by enrolling under two different identities the journalist had violated provisions of the Aadhaar Act and certain sections of the Indian Penal Code.

Before that, when Skoch Group Chairman Sameer Kochhar posted a video and blogpost showing that the biometric identification system could be vulnerable against replay attacks, the UIDAI registered a complaint with the Delhi police’s crime branch which in turn filed an FIR against Kochhar for “allegedly spreading rumours” about the vulnerability of the Aadhaar system.