India Today - - INSIDE - By M.G. Arun

Abig con­tro­versy erupted around the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of Aad­haar data fol­low­ing me­dia re­ports that the per­sonal de­tails of a bil­lion In­di­ans, who have been en­rolled by the Unique Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Author­ity of In­dia (UIDAI), were on sale for a song. On Jan­uary 3, The Tri­bune said that its correspondent was given ac­cess to per­sonal data, in­clud­ing names, ad­dresses, postal codes (PIN), pho­tos, phone num­bers and emails of Aad­haar card­hold­ers for as lit­tle as Rs 500 over What­sApp. What’s more, with an ad­di­tional Rs 300, il­le­gal op­er­a­tors pro­vided her ‘soft­ware’ that could fa­cil­i­tate the print­ing of the Aad­haar card upon en­ter­ing the Aad­haar num­ber of any in­di­vid­ual.

The re­port cre­ated a storm, with the Op­po­si­tion at­tack­ing the govern­ment for fail­ing to pro­tect the pri­vate de­tails cit­i­zens have shared with the UIDAI. But what raised a big­ger storm was the UIDAI’s move to file a first in­for­ma­tion re­port (FIR) against Tri­bune correspondent Rachna Khaira and the ‘un­known agents’ who had pro­vided her ac­cess to Aad­haar’s de­mo­graphic data­base. In a state­ment, the Edi­tors Guild of In­dia con­demned the UIDAI’s move and said it was “clearly meant

to brow­beat a jour­nal­ist whose in­ves­ti­ga­tion on the mat­ter was of great pub­lic in­ter­est” and termed it an “un­fair, un­jus­ti­fied and a di­rect at­tack on the free­dom of the press”. It also de­manded a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­leged breach and a with­drawal of all cases against the reporter. Amer­i­can whistle­blower Ed­ward Snow­den also crit­i­cised the In­dian govern­ment for a text­book en­act­ment of ‘shoot­ing the mes­sen­ger’.

The govern­ment stepped in to con­trol the dam­age, with Union law min­is­ter Ravi Shankar Prasad stat­ing on Jan­uary 8 that the govern­ment was com­mit­ted to the free­dom of the press and “to main­tain­ing the se­cu­rity and sanc­tity of Aad­haar for In­dia’s de­vel­op­ment”. Clar­i­fy­ing that the FIR was against “un­known” peo­ple, he said he had sug­gested that the UIDAI “re­quest The Tri­bune and its jour­nal­ist to as­sist the po­lice in in­ves­ti­gat­ing (the) real of­fend­ers”. In a re­cent de­vel­op­ment, to re­strict the use of the Aad­haar num­ber, the UIDAI has in­tro­duced vir­tual IDs that can be gen­er­ated for a short pe­riod and used in­stead of Aad­haar. The UIDAI has also re­stricted the ac­cess of around 5,000 of­fi­cials to the Aad­haar por­tal, fol­low­ing the up­roar over the breach.

The con­tro­versy could not have come at a worse time for the govern­ment, which has been widely crit­i­cised for mak­ing Aad­haar com­pul­sory for the most com­mon­place of ben­e­fits and pur­chases, right from dis­tri­bu­tion of sub­si­dies to pay­ing in­come tax to pur­chas­ing mo­bile SIM cards and in­sur­ance, or even procur­ing a death cer­tifi­cate. The Supreme Court is hear­ing a slew of pe­ti­tions re­lat­ing to pri­vacy is­sues around Aad­haar, in­clud­ing whether pri­vacy is a fun­da­men­tal right. The next hear­ing is sched­uled on Jan­uary 17. The apex court has re­ferred all Aad­haar-re­lated cases to a five-judge Con­sti­tu­tion bench.

The lat­est Aad­haar breach also brings to the fore the need to strengthen pri­vacy laws in line with the 2012 rec­om­men­da­tions of the Jus­tice A.P. Shah-led Group of Ex­perts on Pri­vacy. In its re­port, the panel had said that a frame­work on the right to pri­vacy must in­clude pri­vacy con­cerns around data pro­tec­tion on the In­ter­net, ap­pro­pri­ate pro­tec­tion from unau­tho­rised in­ter­cep­tion, au­dio and video surveil­lance, use of per­sonal iden­ti­fiers, bod­ily pri­vacy, in­clud­ing DNA as well as phys­i­cal pri­vacy.

“It (the move to link Aad­haar with most ser­vices) is a fait ac­com­pli, and un­less the Supreme Court finds it un­con­sti­tu­tional or some­thing, I don’t think things are go­ing to change,” says a pri­vacy ex­pert.

The breach re­it­er­ates the need to strengthen laws on lines ad­vo­cated by the A.P. Shah ex­pert panel

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