Journalist who exposed Aadhaar data breach deserves an award, not investigation, says Edward Snowden

The US whistleblower made the comment on the UIDAI’s complaint against a reporter of ‘The Tribune’ – though the police did not charge her in the FIR.

The journalist who exposed a possible breach of data in India’s biometric identification system Aadhaar deserves “an award, not an investigation”, American whistleblower Edward Snowden said on Tuesday.

In a post on Twitter, the former contractor with the United States National Security Agency suggested that it was the Unique Identification Authority of India that was responsible for “destroy[ing] the privacy of a billion Indians”. Snowden made the comments on a tweet by journalist Rahul Kanwal, who had criticised the UIDAI’s decision to file a complaint against a reporter of The Tribune who wrote about loopholes in the Aadhaar system.

“If the government were truly concerned for justice, they would be reforming the policies that destroyed the privacy of a billion Indians,” Snowden wrote. “Want to arrest those responsible? They are called @UIDAI.”

The police, however, have not charged the reporter in the First Information Report and, instead, named unknown people. Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Monday said the government had asked the UIDAI to request The Tribune and its journalist to assist the police in the investigation.

This was Snowden’s second statement on Aadhaar within a week. On Friday, he said history had shown that no matter what the laws are, the result is always abuse. On that occasion as well, he was commenting on the report published by The Tribune.

In its report titled “Rs 500, 10 minutes, and you have access to billion Aadhaar details” published on January 4, The Tribune had claimed to have bought “a service being offered by anonymous sellers over WhatsApp” for unrestricted access to details of the more than 1 billion Aadhaar holders.

After the report, the UIDAI filed a complaint against Rachna Khaira, the reporter who wrote the story. The complaint also named the people Khaira contacted during the course of her reporting, as they had “unauthorisedly accessed the Aadhaar ecosystem in connivance of the criminal conspiracy”, an official had told The Indian Express.

On Monday, senior Delhi Police officials told Scroll.in that they were investigating the involvement of insiders at the UIDAI after the alleged data breach. “It is an open-ended FIR,” Delhi Police spokesperson Madhur Verma said. “Accused persons will be identified during the investigation.”

Hours after The Tribune report was published, the UIDAI said only designated personnel and state government officials had access to the search facility to redress grievances to help residents. The Aadhaar authority said the reported case appeared to be an instance of misuse of this facility.

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