‘Committed To Free Press,’ Says Minister On Outrage Over Aadhaar Police Case

NEW DELHI: After a police case was filed by the Aadhaar-issuing authority UIDAI against a newspaper reporter and others over a report that the Aadhaar database was vulnerable to misuse, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today clarified that the action was not meant to suppress freedom of the press.

“Govt. is fully committed to freedom of Press as well as to maintaining security & sanctity of #Aadhaar for India’s development. FIR is against unknown. I’ve suggested @UIDAI to request Tribune & it’s journalist to give all assistance to police in investigating real offenders,” Mr Prasad tweeted.

The police complaint, which also names people who sold unauthorised access details to The Tribune journalist, was filed within days of the news report. The Editor’s Guild of India has condemned the police case against the journalist, Rachna Khaira.

After the law minister’s tweet, the UIDAI also said it is “committed to the freedom of Press.”

“We’re going to write to @thetribunechd & @rachnakhaira to give all assistance to investigate to nab the real culprits. We also appreciate if Tribune & its journalist have any constructive suggestion to offer,” the UIDAI tweeted.

The newspaper had reported that it received an offer to buy access into the Aadhaar database for Rs. 500, and that its journalist was given login details to access the data. The journalist tried to key in an individual’s Aadhaar number and was able to see the demographic details of the person concerned, the newspaper had claimed.

The expose had embarrassed the UIDAI. Its Aadhaar already faces a legal challenge in the Supreme Court over privacy concerns. Outside, many experts also believe that UIDAI’s model to put a great deal of private information accessible over the internet was a flawed idea that runs the risk of hacking despite the UIDAI claims of strong encryption system.

The Editor’s Guild of India responded strongly to the police case, condemning “the 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”.

Delhi police on Sunday said their probe would, for now, focus on tracing the people who sold the Aadhaar database password.

Delhi police spokesperson Madhur Verma said the complaint sent by the Unique Identification Authority of India had mentioned the name of the reporter who was purportedly given access. “Investigation has been initiated with the present focus on tracing and booking the person who has shared the password,” the Delhi police spokesperson said in a statement.

The UIDAI, which had been quick to file the police case, had stood its ground. The authority said its police complaint was not targeted at the journalist but it had to name the reporter, Rachna Khaira, because she was part of the chain of events that led to the misuse of its grievance redress facility.

An impression is being created in media that UIDAI “is targeting the media or whistleblowers or ‘shooting the messenger’. This is not at all true,” the authority’s statement said. But it also underlined a person’s guilt or innocence could only be decided after a police probe and trial.