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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Unpalatable Exposure

Tuesday, 09 January 2018 11:45
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Day-by-day things have certainly gone much beyond post-truth and everything contemptible. How else can UIDAI's move to register a case against The Tribune newspaper and one of its reporters for exposing illegal data leak of Aadhaar details be explained? As you may be well aware, after a January 3 report by The Tribune over breach in Aadhaar data with a headline "Rs 500, 10 minutes, and you have access to billion Aadhaar details", the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) 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. The UIDAI move has attracted widespread criticism from press bodies, Editors Guild and journalists across the country who have demanded the withdrawal of cases against the newspaper and its reporter. The Tribune has stood by its story and rebutted claims made by the UIDAI. "We at The Tribune believe that our stories were in the nature of a legitimate journalistic exercise. Our story was in response to a very genuine concern among the citizens on a matter of great public interest," Tribune's Editor-in-Chief Harish Khare said in a note on the newspaper's website on Sunday. "We regret very much that the authorities have misconceived an honest journalistic enterprise and have proceeded to institute criminal proceedings against the whistleblower. We shall explore all legal options open to us to defend our freedom to undertake serious investigative journalism," he added. Quite naturally, journalists across the country have protested the UIDAI's move to stifle journalistic investigations that appear to prove that indeed citizens' privacy is under threat. UIDAI has always maintained that data of citizen's particulars are in safe hands while filing for and being issued Aadhaar cards however this has been contested several times by numerous quarters last year and this year it has been proved by The Tribune report that citizens' data and privacy are not in safe hands. What is incomprehensible has been succinctly put by Chandigarh Press Club Secretary General Barinder Singh Rawat asked: "Instead of taking action against people involved in data breach, the Government agency preferred to lodge a FIR against a reporter who exposed the loopholes in the system," Rawat said in a statement. See, today nothing is unbreachable, nothing is unhackable, particularly keeping in mind that the technology used by UIDAI to gather and store citizens' data to issue Aadhaar cards is at least a decade old. And, as we are regularly informed technology is upgraded every other minute of the day. Besides, of all countries probably the growth rate of wiz-kids in India is the highest. Moreover, along with technological upgrades and advances now, the rate of technology-based crimes has also increased in the past few years. Government agencies ought not only keep a faster pace to secure their systems to protect valuable and vulnerable data and thereby secure citizens' data and privacy but they also ought to be vigilant about technology-based crimes that have all potentials to put the country at risk. However, in this instance, that the media should be targeted as having violated Sections of the Indian Penal Code, the IT Act and Aadhaar Act is bizarre and goes against the very grains of democracy of which the media is the fourth pillar. It appears that government agencies need to be constantly reminded that the media's brief is to tell the truth. Further, any government agency that seeks to punish the media, or anybody for that matter, for telling the truth needs to be explained the basics of democracy particularly the essence of the Fourth Estate and freedom of speech and expression. But more importantly, the necessity to have a moral fibre and inculcate ethical means to deliver their services ~ otherwise, the very purpose of government agencies is defeated. In this instance, we can see another attempt to shoot the messenger because lies have been told and these lies are being exposed unpalatably. 


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