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Published On: Mon, Jan 8th, 2018

Anger Over Aadhaar Case, SC Backs Freedom of Expression

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uidai-aadhaar-uidai-website_650x400_81515349914NEW DELHI :An Indian government agency has filed a police complaint against a journalist who exposed a possible security breach in the country’s vast biometric database that contains the personal details of over a billion citizens, raising fresh concerns about shrinking press freedom in India.

The complaint against journalist Rachna Khaira came after she wrote an article in the Tribune newspaper saying that reporters were able to buy access to addresses, emails, and phone numbers of a billion citizens for about $8.

For an extra $5, reporters purchased access to a software that allowed them to print unique identity cards, which enables people to access a host of government services such as free school meals and fuel subsidies.
Khaira’s investigation created an outcry in India as it suggests the data of a billion citizens may not be protected as well as the government had previously claimed. The breach she uncovered, the article said, exposed almost every Indian citizen to identity fraud and intrusions of privacy.

The police complaint against Khaira is the latest in clashes between India’s government and media. India ranks 136 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
Speaking to a tv channel , Khaira said the revelations in her story were just the “tip of the iceberg.” She said, “We have almost completed our entire investigation… We have got much more than what we have exposed so far and which we are going to bring up in the next few days.”

In response to Khaira’s story, the Unique Identification Authority (UIDAI), which oversees the biometric program sent a letter to the Tribune’s editor saying, “It is the UIDAI’s position that there was absolutely no access to the biometric details (i.e. fingerprints and iris scans) of any individual whatsoever on the said UIDAI portal.”

Meanwhile, Law, Ravi Shankar Prasad  In a tweet, wrote: “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.”(sic)

“UIDAI 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.
As the police case against journalists who exposed the gaps in security network of the world’s largest biometric system,

The Supreme Court which is hearing a petition challenging the validity of Aadhaar, meanwhile, made it clear that politicians should “allow freedom of expression” during the hearing on another case.
“You must allow freedom of expression by Journalists… there may be some wrong reporting. But don’t hold on to it forever,” the Supreme Court said today when a lawmaker appealed regarding a case of defamation in Patna following a story on illegal land allocation.
The opposition said the law minister is unaware of the activities of his department officials. “They should withdraw the FIR… this is attacking the freedom of the press and those who are explaining serious flaws in the system,” said senior Congress leader Manish Tiwari.
Last week, The Tribune reported that it received an offer to buy access into the Aadhaar database for Rs. 500 and 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 reported.
The UIDAI, which already faces a legal challenge in the Supreme Court over privacy concerns, had filed the police complaint against the Tribune story, naming the journalist and insisting there was no breach in its system.

tweeted from its official account that Khaira’s report was “fake news.” In another tweet, it quoted tech titan Nandan Nilekani who created the biometric program known as Aadhaar saying: “The security concerns raised around Aadhaar are complete nonsense, figment of imagination and a deliberate attempt to create an alarmist talk.”
Modi government has tried to make Aadhaar cards mandatory to access a number of essential public services but was held back by activists who filed cases against the government in the Supreme Court.
The Tribune’s editor Harish Khare issued a statement saying, “Our story was in response to a very genuine concern among the citizens on a matter of great public interest.(With Agency Inputs ).

 

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