The Editors’ Guild of India on Sunday condemned the FIR registered against a news journalist who exposed Aadhaar data leak as attempt to “browbeat a journalist whose investigation on the matter was of great public interest” and “a direct attack on the freedom of the press” while demanding the Centre to intervene and withdraw the FIR.
The Editors’ Guild expressed concern over the FIR registered by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) against Rachna Khaira, the journalist who in her report published in The Tribune on January 3 had exposed how billions of Aadhaar numbers could be accessed by paying a paltry sum of Rs. 500. Khaira has been booked under IPC sections 419 (punishment for cheating under impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery), 471 (using a forged document) and also under sections of the IT Act and the Aadhaar Act.
The move came under severe criticism from the Media Association of Punjab and also the Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) also.
“This act of UIDAI appears to be guided by its diffidence ahead of the hearing in the Supreme Court on 17 January by the Constitution Bench on the constitutionality of world’s biggest database of UID/Aadhaar Numbers merit greater scrutiny given the fact that countries like the UK, Australia, China, France, USA, Germany and others have abandoned similar efforts to build citizen’s databases, which becomes one the most vulnerable assets of the country,” said Gopal Krishna of CFCL.
The Tribune report of January 3 by Khaira had exposed how, for a small sum of money made to a payment bank, an agent of a private group would allegedly create a gateway to access details contained in an individual’s Aadhaar card. Using a false identity, Khaira had posed as an interested party and claimed in her report that she had easy access to details that individuals had listed in their Aadhaar cards.
The UIDAI had subsequently issued a statement denying possibility of any such data breach.
“The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned over reports that the Deputy Director of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) had registered an FIR against Rachna Khaira, a reporter of The Tribune, in the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police,” the Editors’ Guild said in a statement issued on Sunday.
“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. It is unfair, unjustified and a direct attack on the freedom of the press.
“Instead of penalising the reporter, the UIDAI should have ordered a thorough internal investigation into the alleged breach and made its findings public. The Guild demands that the concerned Union Ministry intervene and have the cases against the reporter withdrawn apart from conducting an impartial investigation into the matter,” said the statement issued by Guild’s president Raj Chengappa and general-secretary Prakash Dubey.
CFCL also said: “As per Section 37 of the Aadhaar Act, whoever, intentionally discloses, transmits, copies or otherwise disseminates any identity information collected in the court of ollected in the course of enrolment or authentication to any person not authorised under this Act or regulations made thereunder or in contravention of any agreement or arrangement entered into pursuant to the provisions of this Act, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or, in the case of a company, with a fine which may extend to one lakh rupees or with both.”
“A joint reading of Section 47 (1) and Section 37 reveals that government wants to remain in dark about intentional disclosures, transmissions, copying and dissemination of any identity information because no one other than UIDAI itself is authorized to take note of such illegal activities and no one other itself can file complaint against unauthorised collection,” it said.