Clear case of attack on press freedom

By Sushil Kutty. Dated: 1/10/2018 12:51:33 PM

Thanks to Aadhaar, the state holds a mine of information on every citizen with which it can persuade citizens to toe a certain line. The direction to link Aadhaar to bank accounts was like a gun to the head.

To call an investigative reporter a scribe is downright insulting. A scribe is a person who copies out documents and that is not what Tribune reporter Rachna Khaira did when she exposed the ease with which anybody can steal Aadhaar data. Her report laid bare the inadequacies of the Aadhaar programme and the government's use of it as a "tool of spying and surveillance" as the Congress Party put it following the FIR against Khaira by UIDAI.
The majority of educated Indians will agree with the Congress that the BJP-led Modi government is destroying the Aadhaar programme and that the unique identification number is no longer being used to deliver essential government services to below poverty line households. Instead, it as being used to influence and control the decisions made by the citizen, the very way he behaves and lives.
Thanks to Aadhaar, the state holds a mine of information on every citizen with which it can persuade citizens to toe a certain line. The direction to link Aadhaar to bank accounts was like a gun to the head.
The FIR against The Tribune reporter is not just "unfortunate", as the Congress put it, but an attack on press freedom; another instance of dictatorial tendency. As it moves closer to general elections 2019, the Modi government appears to be not wary of "silencing" voices of dissent.
The Congress calls it "parochial mindset" that comes to the fore when "intellectual and media" point out problems. That is to deny the groundswell of dissent to Aadhaar from the grassroots. At that level there is no need to file FIRs because who has bothered about what the "intellectually"-challenged common man thinks, the farmers and workers.
Therein lies the problem. It is always when the elite chimes in that the shoe drops. The exclusive club of the vocal elite rules the roost in India. So, when Congress spokesperson Shobha Oza says "instead of helping the poor, it (Aadhaar) has become a tool of spying and surveillance" she is not being entirely truthful.
Aadhaar was created to help the poor enjoy the benefits of various government schemes but has been used to link the unique ID number to everything that touches a citizen's life. The common man is vulnerable to the security issues that the government justifies to foist the Aadhaar number on him. His biometric data on the Aadhaar card can be used to nail him any which way.
And The Tribune expose has proved beyond any reasonable doubt that it's kid's play to get hold of that data, for just "Rs 500 and 10 minutes" of anybody's time and money. A Modi tweet of 2014 shows that the then PM-elect of the BJP was worried about the security threat posed by Aadhaar. But once in power the worry went out the window.
The FIR against Rachna Khaira reminds of a Louis L'Amour western, the Trail to Crazy Man, in which the protagonist is shanghaied and put to sea but when after two years of brutal treatment on the ship he escapes, the law goes after him for mutiny on the sea!
Similarly, the UIDAI isn't bothered that "secure" Aadhaar numbers were stolen and that sensitive biometric data of one billion Indians were floating around but cannot get around the fact that somebody had exposed the Achilles heel of UIDAI. One cannot but revert to the cliché 'Shooting the messenger'.
The Supreme Court has ruled that privacy of the individual is a fundamental right. But privacy is now available for the taking for Rs 500 and 10 minutes. On May 4, 2017, when the Attorney-General defended the move to make Aadhaar mandatory for PAN, he told the apex court that "one cannot have an absolute right over his or her body."
Can the government specify which parts of his body does the citizen have no absolute right to? The accused in The Tribune case have been booked under a clutch of IPC sections including 419 (punishment for cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery) and 471 (using as genuine a forged document) besides under Section 66 of the Information Technology Act and Section 36/37 of the Aadhaar Act.
The newspaper said it got access to Aadhaar details through an "agent" including name, address, postal code (PIN), photo, phone number and email for Rs 300. It was a "racket", the newspaper wrote. Now UIDAI has charged The Tribune of racketeering!
And while at it, the UIDAI denied breach or leak of Aadhaar data. If so why the FIR? Usually, when a newspaper report goes wrong the contents are refuted and there the story ends. If it was just "a case of misreporting", why the FIR? It smacks of vendetta for exposing bogus claims.
The UIDAI says Aadhaar data are safe and secure and that there has been no breach and that the "authority maintains complete log and traceability of its search facility and any misuse was traceable." Is that so? In the light of The Tribune report, can the citizen lodge an FIR against UIDAI for breach of privacy?
—(IPA Service)



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