The Tribune reporter faces FIR for exposing Aadhaar leaks

In what appears to be a case of shooting the messenger – a common reaction by Indian authorities when their shortcomings are exposed - the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police has registered a First Information Report against The Tribune newspaper and its reporter Rachna Khaira after the paper published a story on the ease with which anyone's Aadhaar data could be obtained via WhatsApp.

The FIR also names Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar and Raj, all of whom were mentioned in report as people Khaira contacted in the course of her reporting.

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 Indian Penal Code 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.

A complaint was received from UIDAI deputy director B M Patnaik on Friday and the FIR was registered the same day, police said. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is the nodal agency for the issuance of Aadhaar cards.

The FIR stated that "an input was received from The Tribune that it purchased a service being offered by anonymous sellers over WhatsApp that provided unrestricted access to details of any of the Aadhaar numbers created in India''. The FIR mentioned that the "correspondent" of The Tribune, posing as a buyer "Anamika", had purchased the details.

The report, which was widely shared on social media sites, claimed that it took just Rs500 and 10 minutes for the newspaper to get an 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. Software to print the Aadhaar card cost another Rs300 (See: Your Aadhaar details are up for sale, price: Rs500).

Authorities in the UIDAI, including its media unit, were not available for comment when contacted by media including The Indian Express.

While the newspaper's editor-in-chief Harish Khare refused to comment on the FIR, media outfits were quick to condemn the action.

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.

The Press Club, Mumbai, has demanded an impartial inquiry on the Aadhar data sale and  action against those involved in the data breach instead of taking action against the journalist who exposed it.

The UIDAI on Thursday said its search facility for grievance redressal may have been "misused" but denied any breach or leak of Aadhaar data (See: UIDAI probing reported Aadhaar data breach, but denies information leak).