Various press bodies including the Press Club of India, the Editors Guild, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association and the Mumbai Press Club on Sunday condemned the lodging of FIR against The Tribune reporter who exposed vulnerability of the Aadhaar data.
The press clubs and journalists’ associations dubbed the FIR as “a direct attack on the freedom of the press” and demanded an immediate withdrawal of the case.
“The Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) and Press Association express their strong objection and condemnation at the registration of a FIR against a reporter of The Tribune by an officer of the Unique Identification Authority of India for writing a story exposing alleged loopholes in the system,” a joint statement by the three bodies said.
After a January 3 news report by The Tribune newspaper over breach in Aadhaar data with a headline “Rs 500, 10 minutes, and you have access to billion Aadhaar details”, the UIDAI has registered an FIR against the newspaper and reporter Rachna Khaira.
The FIR, lodged with the Cyber Cell of the Crime Branch, invokes serious charges under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), IT Act and Aadhaar Act.
The UIDAI on January 4 said its search facility for grievance redressal may have been “misused” but denied any breach or leak of Aadhaar data.
“If there is no breach, what is the offence they have supposed to have committed? Rather than addressing the loopholes which would actually ensure safety and security of the data and allay the general concerns about this, the UIDAI has chosen to persecute those whose actions appear to have been only in public interest, that is, drawing attention to the possibility of data insecurity before someone with ulterior motives is able to exploit them,” the statement said.
“We find the UIDAI’s move extremely intimidatory, obstructionist and inimical to the pursuit of free, fair and independent journalism. We demand that the complaint and the proceedings related to it should be withdrawn forthwith,” it said.
The Editors Guild of India, in a separate statement, said that is “deeply concerned” over reports that UIDAI had registered an FIR against the reporter of The Tribune who has been booked under IPC sections 419 (cheating under impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery), 471 (using a forged document) and also under sections of the IT Act and the Aadhar Act.
“The Guild condemns UIDAI’s action to have the Tribune reporter booked by 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,” it said, demanding withdrawal of the police case and an “impartial investigation” into the matter.
The Mumbai Press Club too condemned the “unilateral action of the UIDAI for lodging an FIR” and underlined that the action “will be treated as nothing short of an attack on the privileges and rights of a free press”.
It also advised the “administration” to avoid a “clash with the Fourth Estate”.
“Mumbai Press Club demands an impartial inquiry on the Aadhaar data sale and take action against those involved in the data breach instead of taking action against the journalist who exposed it,” it said.