‘Aadhaar numbers for sale’ report: Delhi Police closes case on The Tribune, journalist

“Police found that the login ID of the Surat Collector’s office in Gujarat was used to access the data, and also that an Aadhaar centre had been running inside his office,” an officer said.

Three years after it lodged an FIR against The Tribune newspaper and its reporter Rachna Khaira—following her report on anonymous sellers allegedly selling Aadhaar numbers on WhatsApp—the Delhi Police Crime Branch has stated that “there is no sufficient evidence to probe further” and filed a “cancellation report” before a Delhi court.

The Tribune report, dated January 3, had stated: “It took just Rs 500, paid through Paytm, and 10 minutes in which an ‘agent’ of the group running the racket created a ‘gateway’ for this correspondent and gave a login ID and password. Lo and behold, you could enter any Aadhaar number in the portal, and instantly get all particulars that an individual may have submitted to the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India), including name, address, postal code (PIN), photo, phone number and email.”

In the January 5, 2018, FIR, the complainant, B M Patnaik, who works with UIDAI’s logistics and grievance redressal department, had said: “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 also names Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar and Raj, all of whom were mentioned in The Tribune report as people Khaira contacted in the course of her reporting.

The FIR detailed how the reporter got in touch with the other persons named in the FIR and went on to state: “The above-mentioned persons have unauthorisedly accessed the Aadhaar ecosystem in connivance of the criminal conspiracy… The act of the aforesaid involved persons is in violation of (the various sections mentioned in the FIR)… Hence, an FIR needs to be filed at the cyber cell for the said violation.”

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 as genuine a forged document), as well Section 66 of the IT Act and Section 36/37 of the Aadhaar Act.

“Police found that the login ID of the Surat Collector’s office in Gujarat was used to access the data, and also that an Aadhaar centre had been running inside his office. Staff had been using his login ID, but there was no illegal access… Typically, Aadhaar cards are made, and requests for information change put in, at such service centres,” an officer said.

Police further found that the outsourced staff had shared the Aadhaar portal page with someone in Rajasthan, who were also accessing the page. However, when the matter came to the notice of authorities, they changed the system.

“Police, after taking legal opinion, found that sharing page link was not illegal; they also discussed with Aadhaar officials. Police finally found that there was no illegal access and they have filed a cancellation report before a Delhi court,” said a senior police officer.

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