UIDAI filing FIR against Tribune journalist for exposing Aadhaar breach is a case of shooting the messenger
Instead of acknowledging the myriad insecurities built into its biometric identity database, the body is brazening it out, imperiling citizens of India.
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The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has behaved in a highly brazen manner once again, lodging an FIR against a reporter of Chandigarh-based English daily The Tribune, for exposing the massive security threat posed by the UID project.
The reporter, Rachna Khaira, had shown in her comprehensive report (and a thorough follow-up debunking the UIDAI’s denial of the breach) that admin access to the entire UIDAI database can be arranged for as little as Rs 500.
In fact, the admin rights could be purchased by anyone doing a little online rigging, putting the whole of the one-billion-plus Aadhaar-related information of Indian citizens at the mercy of whoever’s looking at it.
Instead of acknowledging the myriad insecurities built into its biometric identity database, the UIDAI is busy shooting the messenger/s, and targeting Khaira is the latest in a rather long line of journalists and activists hounded by the organisation supposedly marshalling India’s digital present and heralding its future.
The FIR against Khaira has been registered by a deputy director of the UIDAI, even as several online rights activists and digital security experts, as well as lawyers with expertise in the still nebulous legal domain of information technology and security, privacy and rights, have tried reasoning with representatives of the UIDAI, and members of the government, especially the law and telecom ministries, under Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Manoj Sinha respectively.
The FIR by UIDAI also names Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar and Raj, who were mentioned in The Tribune report, whom Khaira contacted during her investigation. According to The Indian Express, “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.”
The FIR states: “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."
Not only does this mean that the UIDAI is simply refusing to admit what’s staring it in the face, it’s trying to intimidate those who bring to fore the loopholes with which Aadhaar is riddled, in addition to being a mechanism for engineering massive exclusions in the welfare delivery, or public distribution system, leading to starvation deaths among the poor in a number of states.
In addition to several reported security breaches, leaks from government websites, portals running scam enrollment centres, selling of Aadhaar data to private companies at throwaway prices – now revealed to be as low as Rs 500 – it seems Aadhaar has become a monstrously ridiculous security joke for all.
To the extent that Edward Snowden of the NSA surveillance revelations, and perhaps the whistleblower-in-chief of the world, has very harsh words to say of the Aadhaar and the UIDAI’s misguided project.
It is the natural tendency of government to desire perfect records of private lives. History shows that no matter the laws, the result is abuse. https://t.co/7HSQSZ4T3f— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 4, 2018
@Snowden India's ID project #Aadhaar is driven by private interests to colonize India, not government's desire to record private lives. Money laundering is one way the new East India companies loot the people & the country https://t.co/9Wta0hvrcA https://t.co/QxNwEcq6pa— AnupamSaraph (@AnupamSaraph) January 5, 2018
Khaira isn’t the first journalist that the UIDAI has lodged a police complaint against. Newschannel CNN IBN’s Debayan Roy has faced the same fate for doing a report on how it was possible to get multiple Aadhaar numbers with the same biometric details.
This flies in the face of the UIDAI’s claim that Aadhaar prevents duplication of beneficiaries and weeds out “ghosts”; in fact, it does the opposite, creates frauds and excludes those failed by biometrics and biometrics-based authentication.
Those with physical impairments, conditions like leprosy, amputees, those with calloused hands due to physical labour, those with eye conditions, old and disabled persons, children, newborns and many others repeatedly fail the biometrics test.
Others too have faced UIDAI and government censure, including concerted trolling attempts against those exposing the Aadhaar problems systematically and consistently.
While welfare economists and PDS experts, including Jean Dreze and Usha Ramanathan, have been crying hoarse over Aadhaar-related problems from its inception, the staggering proportion of the UIDAI project and the government forcing Aadhaar on all Indian citizens, making it a mandatory digital gateway for accessing increasingly any social and civic facility, has now become a security nightmare of astronomical measures.
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
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
Thank you UIDAI, for being so utterly predictable, petty, cocky, vengeful and so full of yourself - FIR against Tribune reporter over Aadhaar data breach story https://t.co/pa9bhrAB5N 10 years from now, I hope you and your people will run pillar to post in courts. https://t.co/3YnxIBcRGM— Karthik (@beastoftraal) January 7, 2018
Shoot the ‘messenger’,Ignore the ‘message’!This typifies the ‘culture’ & ‘character’ of BJP Govt.FIR against @thetribunechd reporter is ‘arrogance of power’ at its worst.Every Indian must condemn this mindless act of Modi Govt & @UIDAI https://t.co/To88cCbBbO— Randeep S Surjewala (@rssurjewala) January 7, 2018
Dear @rsprasad - how does filing FIR against journalist make sense? Shdnt FIR be against @UIDAI for allwng ds loophole 2 b left unguarded n 4 allwng violatn of privacy of enrollees whch is their fundamental right? Copy: @PMOIndia https://t.co/Eze4OFHAQr— Rajeev Chandrasekhar (@rajeev_mp) January 7, 2018
Breaches in Aadhaar have frequently led to financial frauds. The BJP govt insists on making it mandatory with every bank account. It doesn't care for honest and hard-working Indians losing their money. pic.twitter.com/KT34VSDhch— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) January 7, 2018
However, it’s heartening to see radical unity among an otherwise divided Indian media and political Opposition on the issue of Aadhaar leaks, and the FIR against Khaira and others. Many senior journalists have called the UIDAI out on this, asking for investigation into the breaches so thoroughly exposed and followed up by other media organisations, including India Today TV.
UIDAI should immediately withdraw the FIR/s, not only against Khaira, but also against Roy, and others, including the whistleblowers who helped expose this open secret of Aadhaar’s rickety, leaky, minimum-security database containing sensitive data of over a billion Indians.
Otherwise, the very authorities entrusted with serving the Indian citizen would be liable for betraying our trust. Again and again.