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Delhi Police closes case against The Tribune and Rachna Khaira for ‘Aadhaar for sale’ report

The Delhi Police Crime Branch has filed a closure report before a Delhi court, stating that its 2018 case against The Tribune and its reporter Rachna Khaira be closed due to insufficient evidence. This was reported by the Indian Express.

Three years ago, the Delhi Police Crime Branch filed an FIR against the publication and Khaira for her report on anonymous individuals who were selling unrestricted access to the details of over a billion Aadhaar numbers via WhatsApp.

According to Khaira’s report published in The Tribune, it took only Rs 500, paid via Paytm, and 10 minutes in which an agent of the group created a “gateway” and gave her a login ID and password. One could soon access all details about an individual that they had submitted to the UIDAI — photos, email addresses, phone number, pincode, address, name — as long as they entered an individual’s Aadhaar number.

Two days after the article was published on January 3, B.M. Patnaik, deputy director at the UIDAI’s logistics and grievance redressal department, lodged a police complaint. He stated that: “An input has been received through The Tribune dated January 3, 2018, that the ‘The Tribune purchased’ a service being offered by anonymous sellers over WhatsApp that provided unrestricted access to details for any of the more than 1 billion Aadhaar numbers created in India thus far.” The FIR had also named Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar, and Raj, all of whom were named in the The Tribune’s report as Khaira’s sources.

The police started their investigation after lodging an FIR at the Crime Branch’s cyber cell under IPC sections 419 (punishment for cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery) and 471 (using a forged document as genuine), Section 66 of the IT Act (jail term and penalty for computer related offences), as well as Section 36/37 of the Aadhaar Act.

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The police has eventually found that there was no illegal access, after taking legal advice and discussing with Aadhaar officials.

At the time, UIDAI officials in Chandigarh had expressed shock and admitted that the system meant that there has been a major national security breach. Sanjay Jindal, Additional Director-General, UIDAI Regional Centre, Chandigarh, accepting that this was a lapse, told The Tribune: “Except the Director-General and I, no third person in Punjab should have a login access to our official portal. Anyone else having access is illegal, and is a major national security breach.”

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