NWMI condemns UIDAI's attempt to silence the media

The Network of Women in Media, India, is appalled that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has reportedly lodged a police complaint against Rachna Khaira, a journalist at The Tribune, over her report on the vulnerability of Aadhaar data. 

The story, 'Rs 500, 10 minutes and you have access to billion aadhaar details' and the follow-up, 'Aadhaar whistleblower who first called uidai', published on January 3, 2018, had described how it was possible to buy access to personal information about citizens stored in the Aadhaar database for as little as Rs. 500. On January 4, based on a complaint by UIDAI, a first information report (FIR) was filed against Khaira for alleged offences, including cheating and forgery.  

The UIDAI appears to lack basic understanding of how journalism works. 

Khaira’s report conclusively demonstrates fundamental flaws in the way the Aadhaar programme has been structured. This is public interest journalism. The UIDAI should be welcoming and acting on reports like Khaira’s, not stifling them.

The UIDAI action raises concerns about whether it is meant to intimidate journalists and deter them from reporting freely on the Aadhaar programme. This is a blatant attack on the freedom of the press, as well as the public's right to information. Other journalists and civil society groups who have revealed failings in the Aadhaar programme have been targeted as well. This must stop.

We also condemn the charges that have been brought against whistleblowers Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar, and Raj, all of whom were mentioned in Rachna’s report. Such punitive action against sources and whistleblowers is completely unacceptable.

As a public authority, the UIDAI is answerable to the public. If there are weaknesses in the system, they need to be fixed. Shooting the messenger is not the responsible or accountable way forward. The media will not be cowed down by these legal browbeating tactics.

The NWMI calls upon the UIDAI to immediately withdraw the complaint against Rachna Khaira and her sources.  Instead, it must direct its action against those who have compromised the security of the Aadhaar database.

The Network of Women in Media in India

January 7, 2018