FIR against Tribune reporter over Aadhaar data breach story

A deputy director of the 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 conjointly names Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar and Raj, all of whom were mentioned in the tribune report as individuals Khaira contacted during her coverage.

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 cast document), also 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 talk about the FIR. In the FIR, the complainant, B M Patnaik, who works with UIDAI’s logistics and grievance redressal department, states that  “An input has been received through The tribune January 3, 2018, that ‘The tribune purchased’ a service being offered by unknown sellers over WhatsApp that provided unrestricted access to details of more than one billion Aadhaar numbers in India so 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-named persons have unauthorisedly accessed the Aadhaar system in connivance of the criminal conspiracy. The act of the aforementioned concerned persons is in violation of (the numerous sections mentioned in the FIR)… thus, an FIR has to be filed at the cyber cell for the aforesaid violation.”

The UIDAI’s media unit didn’t answer calls and texts from The Sunday express. The UIDAI CEO, when contacted, aforesaid he was in a meeting. The tribune report, dated January 3, had stated: “It took simply Rs five hundred, paid through Paytm, and ten minutes in which an ‘agent’ of the group running the racket created ‘gateway’ for this correspondent and gave a login ID and password. You can enter any Aadhaar number in the portal, and can get all particulars that have submitted to the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India), including name, address, postcode (PIN), photo, telephone number and email.”

Late on Sat, UIDAI’s Chandigarh regional office, wrote to The Tribune’s Editor-in-Chief, asking if “was in the least potential for your correspondent to look at or get Fingerprints and Iris scan of any individual through the aforementioned access to UIDAI portal” and “how several Aadhaar numbers did the correspondent really enter through the aforesaid login user id and password and whom did those Aadhaar numbers belong to”. The letter asked for these details to be sent by January 8, “failing that it’ll be probable that there was no access to any Fingerprints and/or Iris scan”.

After the report appeared, the UIDAI had in a statement aforesaid that there has not been any Aadhaar information breach.

The Aadhaar information as well as biometric data is totally secure and safe. There has not been any information breach of the biometric database, that remains totally secure and safe with the best encoding at UIDAI and data can’t be misused while not biometrics.

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