Aadhaar: FIR against Tribune reporter, the messenger must not be shot

Deputy Director of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), B M Patnaik, has filed an FIR against The Tribune newspaper and its reporter Rachna Khaira following her report on how anonymous sellers were allegedly providing access to Aadhaar numbers for a fee through WhatsApp. The FIR also names all those interviewed by the reporter. The FIR has reportedly been filed under Section 419 (punishment for cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery) and 471 (using as genuine a forged document) of the Indian Penal Code, Section 66 of the IT Act and Section 36/37 of the Aadhaar Act. The offences are non-bailable.

The report by The Tribune has created ripples about the abuse of the Aadhaar and it has come as another major embarrassment. It comes after the UIDAI being forced to temporarily suspended the e-KYC licence for Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank following allegations of the company using the service to open payments bank accounts of its subscribers, without their ‘informed consent’. The UIDAI always knew that many websites including  aadhaarupdate.com, aadhaarindia.com, pvcaadhaar.in, aadhaarprinters.com, geteaadhaar.com, downloadaadhaarcard.in, aadharcopy.in, and duplicateaadharcard.com have been providing various services and they could not have provided these services without access to the biometric data submitted to the UIDAI.

It is known that all data can be hacked – whether defence secrets of the United States or data of the US Democratic National Convention as exposed by the release of the hacked data. It is stupid for the UIDAI, which stores biometric data of each and every citizen of this country, to hold the opinion that it is invincible from hacking or misuse. It should learn from India’s intelligence agencies including National Technical Research Organisation which do not put any information on their websites. When Aadhaar data is available online for linking with the indispensable services (phone, banking and income tax returns), it is only a matter of time and interest of the hackers.

The FIR against The Tribune journalist and others is nothing but an attempt to shoot the messengers from reporting the abuse of the Aadhaar. If such FIRs are filed, it shall have only one impact: Aadhaar data can be misused openly but no one can report about the same.

The FIR against the Tribune reporter must be dropped immediately.

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