The Editor's Guild of India has condemned the move by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to lodge an FIR against The Tribune reporter Rachna Khaira for her newspaper report on the breach of one billion Aadhaar cards data.
The Guild, in a statement, said that it “condemns 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”.
Calling UIDAI’s action unfair and unjustified, it called the FIR “a direct attack on the freedom of the press”.
Also Read: Aadhaar data breach: Delhi Police registers FIR against scribe, The Tribune says 'story was in response to a very genuine concern'
Instead of penalising the reporter, UIDAI should have ordered a thorough internal investigation into the alleged breach and made its findings public, the statement added.
The press Club of India, Indiann Women’s Press Corps and Press Association also expressed “strong objection and condemnation” on UIDAI’s move.
They called UIDAI’a action “intimidatory, obstructionist and inimical to the pursuit of free, fair and independent journalism”.
Amnesty International also tweeted against UIDAI’s move, saying that “filing a criminal case against a journalist for exposing weaknesses in a massive government programme is an outrageous attack on freedom of expression”.
The Tribune reported on Thursday that an administrator login ID and password to gain access to the UID portal could be acquired for Rs 500, which would provide access to demographic details of Aadhaar holders simply by keying in ID numbers.
The report also alleged that there were around 1,00,000 illegal users and that the racket might have started six months ago.
After the publication of th story, UIDAI admitted that its search facility for grievance redressal may have been misused but denied any breach or leak of Aadhaar data.
On Saturday, the UIDAI filed an FIR against The Tribune and its reporter for the article headlined "Rs 500, 10 minutes, and you have access to billion Aadhaar details".
The reporter was booked under IPC Sections 419 (punishment for cheating under impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery), 471 (using a forged document) and also under sections of the IT Act and the Aadhaar Act.
The Guild has demanded that the concerned union ministry "intervene" and have the cases against the reporter withdrawn apart from conducting an impartial investigation into the matter.
Under fire for filing the FIR, the UIDAI said it respects free speech, including freedom of the press, and its police complaint should not be viewed as "shooting the messenger".
In a statement, it said that its act should not be viewed as one targeting the media or a whistleblower.
Justifying its stance, the UIDAI said criminal proceedings have been initiated as it was an act of unauthorised access.
Reacting to the development, the Congress attacked the Centre over the UIDAI registering the FIR.
The opposition party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of shooting the messenger instead of probing the matter.
The Congress also raised questions over the "intentions" of the government on privacy issues.
"Intent, & 'Intentions' of Modi Govt on Privacy were thoroughly exposed when it had proclaimed that 'no citizen can have an absolute right over his/her body'," Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted.
"In SC, Modi Govt had accepted Aadhaar data leak! Now instead of investigating, an evasive Modi ji shoots the messenger!" he 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 has been named.
Rachna Khaira, the reporter who has been named by the police, said she was happy about the development as she had "earned" the FIR.
"I think I have earned this FIR. I am happy that at least the UIDAI has taken some action on my report and I really hope that along with the FIR, the Government of India will see what all breaches were there and take appropriate action," she told a television channel.