The Congress on Sunday slammed BJP Government for 'destroying' Aadhaar sceheme and turning it into a surveillance technique. Criticising the government for the FIR against the The Tribune and its reporter, who allegedly uncovered a way to access entire UIDAI database for just Rs 500, the opposition party accused Modi government of dictatorial behaviour.
"In last four years, anyone who does not toe government's line is declared anti-national. It is acting like a dictatorship. Whenever intellectuals and the media try to point out problems, the government files FIRs against them. This is the parochial mindset of government," Congress said in a statement.
"The government does not shy away from filing FIR against innocents, while those who spew communal propaganda are honoured with high posts," alleged party spokesperson Shobha Oza.
Slamming the Narendra Modi government, Oza said, "Instead of helping the poor, it has become a tool of spying and surveillance."
"It was created to help the poor enjoy benefits of various government schemes," Oza said while criticising the present dispensation for trying to link everything to the Aadhaar programme.
On Saturday, a senior official from Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) earlier filed an FIR against The Tribune and its reporter Rachna Khaira for the article headlined "Rs 500, 10 minutes, and you have access to billion Aadhaar details".
The accused were booked under Indian Penal Code Sections 419 (punishment for cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery) and 471 (using as genuine a forged document). Charges were been registered under Section 66 of the Information Technology Act and Section 36/37 of the Aadhaar Act.
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.
"UIDAI assures that there has not been any Aadhaar data breach... The Aadhaar data including biometric information is fully safe and secure," an UIDAI statement said, adding that the data was secure with a "robust uncompromised security".
The authority called The Tribune report "a case of misreporting". But the newspaper stood by its story, saying the UIDAI claiming no breach of Aadhaar data "flies in the face of that".
The authority said it had given search facility for the purpose of grievance redressal to designated personnel and state government officials to help residents. The search facility, the statement said, "gives only limited access to name and other details and has no access to biometric details.
"The reported case appears to be instance of misuse of the grievance redressal search facility. As UIDAI maintains complete log and traceability of the facility, the legal action including lodging of FIR against the persons involved in the instant case is being done."
The Tribune report, widely shared on social media, claimed that it took just Rs 500 and 10 minutes for the newspaper to get access through an "agent" to every detail of any individual submitted to the UIDAI including name, address, postal code (PIN), photo, phone number and email.
Editors Guild condemns FIR against Tribune reporter
Press rallied behind The Tribune newspaper and its reporter Khaira as it condemned the FIR by UIDAI.
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"The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned over reports that the Deputy Director of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) had registered an FIR against Rachna Khaira, a reporter of The Tribune, in the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police," the Guild said in a statement released on Sunday.
"The Guild 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. It is unfair, unjustified and a direct attack on the freedom of the press.
"Instead of penalising the reporter, UIDAI should have ordered a thorough internal investigation into the alleged breach and made its findings public. The Guild demands that the concerned Union Ministry intervene and have the cases against the reporter withdrawn apart from conducting an impartial investigation into the matter," it read.
The petition was signed by the guild's president Raj Chengappa, general secretary Prakash Dubey and treasurer Kalyani Shankar.
In response to the Editors Guild's petition, the UIDAI denied the allegations of “shooting the messenger”.
"In the recent case of The Tribune’s report in which an FIR is filed, 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," UIDAI tweeted from official handle.
Justifying the criminal charges against the media entity, the Aadhaar authority said, "This is a case in which even though there was no breach of Aadhaar biometric database, it is for the act of unauthorized access, criminal proceedings have been initiated. We respect Free Speech including the Freedom of Press and Media. However, our act of filing an FIR with full details of the incident should not be viewed as targeting the media or the whistle-blowers or “shooting the messenger."
(With inputs from agencies)