Two days after The Tribune exposed a national security breach as they gained access to the Aadhaar database in exchange for Rs 500, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) filed a police case against the newspaper as well as the reporter Rachna Khaira. A First Information Report (FIR) was lodged with the Delhi Police Crime Branch Cyber Cell by the UIDAI deputy director on Saturday.
What was the expose about?
On January 4, The Tribune had carried a story in which it reported how the Aadhaar details of more than one billion users are at risk. The Tribune purchased a service being offered by anonymous sellers over WhatsApp for just Rs 500 that provided unrestricted access to details for any of the more than 1 billion Aadhaar numbers created in India. The payment was done through Paytm and the ‘agent’ created a ‘gateway’ by giving the reporter a login ID and password. After that, the reporter was able to get all the details of any individual, who was registered for Aadhaar. The reporting team paid another Rs 300 for a ‘software’ that enabled the printing of any citizen’s Aadhaar card with their numbers.
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How did UIDAI respond to the data breach?
After the report came out, UIDAI’s Chandigarh regional office asked the newspaper whether it was at all possible for them to view or obtain fingerprints and iris scan of any person through the UIDAI portal. They also asked how many Aadhaar numbers they managed to obtain using the login IDs that they got from the agent.
Notice sent by UIDAI to Editor in Chief of The Tribune on the fake news report of Aadhar data breach. pic.twitter.com/pDQ4kbGL5K
— Giriraj Singh (@girirajsinghbjp) January 7, 2018
UIDAI, later, said in a statement that there “has not been any Aadhaar data breach. The Aadhaar data, including biometric information, is fully safe and secure,” reports The Indian Express.
Tribune’s Story “Rs 500, 10 minutes, and you have access to billion Aadhaar details” is a case of misreporting. No biometric data breach @thetribunechd @rsprasad @ceo_uidai @timesofindia @firstpost @IndiaToday @ZeeNews
— Aadhaar (@UIDAI) January 4, 2018
What prompted UIDAI to take action?
The UIDAI has called the exposé a ‘criminal conspiracy’. The FIR has been lodged under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 419 (punishment for cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery) and 471 (using a forged document as genuine), as well Section 66 of the IT Act and Section 36/37 of the Aadhaar Act.
Apart from The Tribune and the reporter Rachna Khaira, the FIR mentions Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar, and Raj, all of whom were contacted by Khaira for the story.
ALSO READ: Aadhaar data leak yet again! Here are 7 previous instances when your security was breached
What are the reactions?
UIDAI ‘s FIR against The Tribune has sparked widespread reactions. Many are calling it a classic case of ‘shooting the messenger’ and have questioned why the authority isn’t serious about working on fixing its own loopholes.
Here are some of the reactions from many journalists:
Instead of thanking Tribune reporter who exposed gap in Aadhaar security — biometrics safe but y should email/phone/address be available? –so it can be plugged @uidai files FIR against reporter!Bad idea @ceo_uidai Had it not been for report,Uidai wouldn’t even know about breach pic.twitter.com/iCdwvyFoIB
— Sunil Jain (@thesuniljain) January 7, 2018
Totally wrong for UIDAI to file an FIR against the journalist who exposed #AadharLeaks If a loophole is pointed out Govt should work on fixing the flaw rather than try to shoot the messenger. Don’t intimidate journalists. Not on. https://t.co/6mxDrZlrLC
— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) January 7, 2018
Tribune reporter blew the whistle on Aadhaar showing how easy it is to steal personal info from Aadhaar database.Instead of rewarding her as a whistleblower,the govt has registered an FIR against her!This is why Modi govt has not notified Whistleblower lawhttps://t.co/0szECv3dLD
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) January 7, 2018
The Indian govt is brazenly trying use intimidate & harass the journalist for pointing out flaws in their pet project.
Journalist has been booked for impersonation, cheating & forgery (!) #Aadhaar #PressFreedomhttps://t.co/JqQTXblxPC
— Vidya (@VidyaKrishnan) January 7, 2018
Letter sent to The Tribune by UIDAI pic.twitter.com/LNZnuUcf9g
— Vasudha Venugopal (@vasudha_ET) January 7, 2018
Inexplicable !! Investigation into Aadhar breach is a Must BUT WHY FIR against Tribune Reporter Rachna Khaira who broke the news??
FIR against Tribune reporter over Aadhaar data breach story https://t.co/vJuI8ISfMT via @IndianExpress
— Rosy (@rose_k01) January 7, 2018
Tribune: Uncle aapke pajaamey mein aag lagi hai.@UIDAI: POLICE! POLICE!
Tribune: Uncle police nahin fire brigade…fire brigade bulaao.@UIDAI: POLICE! Arrest this person for pointing out that my pajama is on fire.
— Aisi Taisi Democracy (@AisiTaisiDemo) January 7, 2018