Scores of journalists held demonstrations in Punjab and Chandigarh on Monday to protest against the UIDAI’s move to register a case against The Tribune newspaper and one of its reporters for exposing illegal data leak of Aadhaar details. The protests were organised on behalf of the Chandigarh Press Club, the Punjab Press Club in Jalandhar, the Patiala Media Club and the Sangrur Press Club.
Journalists in Chandigarh started their protest march from the Press Club and headed towards the Punjab Raj Bhawan to submit a memorandum to the state government and Union Territory Administrator V.P. Singh Badnore. Chandigarh Press Club Secretary General Barinder Singh Rawat condemned the FIR against the Tribune journalist.
“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. Similar protests also took place in other places in Punjab and Haryana to show solidarity with the reporter and the newspaper.
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.