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Aadhaar data breach: Committed to freedom of Press, says Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad

By FnF Correspondent | PUBLISHED: 08, Jan 2018, 16:39 pm IST | UPDATED: 08, Jan 2018, 19:44 pm IST

Aadhaar data breach: Committed to freedom of Press, says Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad New Delhi: Amid criticism of action by UIDAI authorities over a newspaper report on Aadhaar data breach, Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said today that the government is committed to the freedom of the Press and the FIR has been filed against "unknown" entities.

"Government is fully committed to freedom of Press as well as to maintaining security and sanctity of Aadhaar for India's development. FIR is against unknown," Prasad said on social media platform Twitter.

The Delhi Police has registered an FIR (First Information Report) on a UIDAI official's complaint over a newspaper report on alleged data breach of Aadhaar details, naming the reporter behind the story, even as the daily said it will defend its freedom to undertake investigative journalism.

Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Deputy Director B M Patnaik told the police that an input was received from The Tribune that it has purchased a service being offered by anonymous sellers over WhatsApp that provided unrestricted access to details of any of the Aadhaar numbers created in India, the police had said on Sunday.

On January 5, a complaint was received from Patnaik and the FIR was registered the same day, the police said.

The Editors Guild Of India sought government intervention for the withdrawal of the case and called for an "impartial" investigation into the matter.

Criticising the lodging of the FIR, the guild said it was "deeply concerned" over reports that the UIDAI deputy director had registered a complaint in which the reporter of The Tribune, Rachna Khaira, has been named.

Prasad said: "I've suggested UIDAI to request Tribune & its journalist to give all assistance to police in investigating real offenders."

Yesterday, a deputy director of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has registered an FIR against The Tribune newspaper and its reporter Rachna Khaira following her report on how anonymous sellers over WhatsApp were allegedly providing access to Aadhaar numbers for a fee.

The FIR also names Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar and Raj, all of whom were mentioned in The Tribune report as people Khaira contacted in the course of her reporting.

Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) Alok Kumar confirmed that an FIR had been registered and an investigation launched. The FIR has 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.

When contacted, The Tribune’s editor-in-chief Harish Khare refused to comment on the FIR. In the FIR, the complainant, B M Patnaik, who works with UIDAI’s logistics and grievance redressal department, states: “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.”

The FIR details 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 UIDAI CEO, when contacted, said he was in a meeting. The Tribune report, dated January 3, had stated: “It took just Rs 500, paid through Paytm, and 10 minutes in which an ‘agent’ of the group running the racket created a ‘gateway’ for this correspondent and gave a login ID and password. Lo and behold, you could enter any Aadhaar number in the portal, and instantly get all particulars that an individual may have submitted to the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India), including name, address, postal code (PIN), photo, phone number and email.”
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