Aadhaar Leak: Journalists Condemn UIDIA’s FIR Against The Tribune Reporter
"According to the journalist fraternity, this is nothing short of a direct threat to the freedom of the press"
January 8, 2018
The journalist fraternity has come out in support of The Tribune and its reporter Rachna Khaira after UIDAI’s FIR against them for publishing a report on Aadhar Data Breach. The report said that a service was being offered by anonymous sellers over WhatsApp which provided unrestricted access to details for any of the more than one billion Aadhaar. The fee charged for the same was as little as Rs. 500.
After this report, the UIDIA released a statement denying the report. The statement read, “Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has denied the media report published in The Tribune titled “Rs 500, 10 minutes, and you have access to billion Aadhaar details”. The UIDAI feels that “it is a case of misreporting.”
A First Information Report (FIR) was also lodged by a deputy director of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) with the Delhi Police Crime Branch cyber cell on January 6. The FIR was filed under Sections 419 (cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery) and 471 (using forged document) of the IPC, Section 66 of the IT Act and Section 36/37 of the Aadhaar Act. The complaint also names Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar and Raj, all of whom were mentioned in The Tribune report as sources, Khaira contacted in the course of her investigation.
However, this move of UIDIA was met with severe backlash from the journalist community across the country. The Editors Guild of India, Broadcast Editors Association (BEA), Indian Journalists Union (IJU), Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association and Mumbai Press Club issued separate statements condemning the UIDAI action as an attack on free press.
Calling the FIR as an “attempt to browbeat” the reporter, The Editors Guild, said, “The Guild condemns UIDAI 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, Broadcast Editors Association demanded an immediate withdrawal of the police case against journalist Rachna Khaira. “Such FIRs against journalists exposing systemic flaws is a spiteful kick in the teeth of Indian democracy and the right to free speech and expression,” it said.
The Indian Journalists Union said, “The FIR against the newspaper, the reporter and her sources is a huge cover-up of the corruption and inefficiency in the UIDAI and amounts to shooting the messenger. It is a direct attack on the freedom of the press.” It urged upon “The Press Council of India (PCI) to take suo-motu cognizance of the case against the Tribune reporter and take corrective steps”.
A joint statement by the Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps and Press Association said UIDAI FIR was “reflective of its misplaced priorities”. They said: “This move runs counter to the UIDAI claim that the Aadhaar data, including biometric information, is fully safe and secure.” If there is no breach, what is the offence they have supposed to have committed, they asked, while saying, the actions were “intimidatory, obstructionist and inimical to free, fair and independent journalism” and thus demanded “withdrawal of criminal charges”.
The Mumbai Press Club said, “This will be treated as nothing short of an attack on the privileges and rights of a free press, and the administration would be well-advised to avoid a clash with the Fourth Estate.”
First published in Newsclick.
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