The Centre yesterday asserted it is committed to the freedom of the press amid mounting outcry over an FIR lodged in connection with a newspaper report on alleged Aadhaar data breach with BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha wondering if people were living in a “banana republic”. The Delhi Police has registered an “open-ended” First Information Report(FIR) on a complaint from Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) over the report on alleged data breach. The UIDAI’s complaint sparked condemnation from the Confederation of Newspaper and News Agency Employees’ Organisations which demanded its withdrawal. Calling it an attack on the free press, the Confederation said the UIDAI should highlight errors in the report, if any, instead of taking penal action. Though the complaint named four persons, including the Chandigarh-based daily The Tribune’s reporter who had filed the story on alleged breach in Aadhaar database, Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the FIR was against “unknown” entities.
“Government is fully committed to freedom of Press as well as to maintaining security and sanctity of Aadhaar for India’s development. FIR is against unknown,” Prasad said in a tweet. “I’ve suggested UIDAI to request Tribune and its journalist to give all assistance to police in investigating real offenders,” he said. The UIDAI in a fresh statement said it is committed to the freedom of the press and will approach the newspaper and its reporter for cooperation in the investigation of alleged data breach. “We’re going to write to @thetribunechd and @rachnakhaira to give all assistance to investigate to nab the real culprits. We also appreciate if Tribune and its journalist have any constructive suggestion to offer,” the UIDAI said in a tweet. In a series of tweets, Shatrughan Sinha said a journalist who did a story to highlight the misuse of Aadhaar details was being hauled up for reporting an “alleged truth”.
“What kind of ‘justice’ is this? Is there only politics of vendetta? Even public is being victimised for coming out honestly for society and the nation,” he said in a tweet. Sinha has been critical of the central government and the BJP leadership over a host of issues. The actor-turned-politician also congratulated the Editors’ Guild of India for its strong response to the lodging of an FIR in connection with the incident and expressed hope that the “genuine authorities” in the government and the Supreme Court in particular would take notice and come up with swift corrective measures. “A journalist is hauled up for reporting alleged truth about malfunctioning & misuse of Aadhar. Are we living in a Banana Republic (sic)?” the tweet from the Patna Sahib MP read. The Congress accused the Centre of “muzzling dissent” and adopting an “ostrich-like approach” by “prosecuting” the newspaper and the journalist who exposed the alleged breach. Dubbing it as “a clear attack on journalism”, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari alleged that there have been systematic assaults on scribes and an atmosphere of fear and violence has been created against them.
“The newspaper which warns the government that the privacy and the private data of thousands of citizens are at risk is rewarded with an FIR which names the journalist as well as the institution itself,” Tewari told reporters. “If this is not fascism, if this is not trying to muzzle dissent, if this is not gross abuse of state authority, then I am afraid, we possibly do not have a definition for it…. In a statement, the Confederation of Newspaper and News Agency Employees’ Organisations said the action amounts to an attack on the freedom of the press and also denial of access to the press from reporting any news unpalatable to those in authority.