Not targeting media or shooting the messenger: UIDAI’s full statement on FIR against reporter who exposed Aadhaar leaks


An FIR was registered against a journalist from The Tribune newspaper after a report on how easily Aadhaar data could be leaked went viral on social media, the Indian Express reported.

According to reports, UIDAI – the governing body that handles Aadhaar data – sent a letter to newspaper, demanding to know if the reporter could view fingerprints and iris details with Aadhaar number.

After coming for severe criticism, UIDAI put out an official statement saying it wasn’t targeting the media or ‘shooting the messenger’.

Read the full statement below:

Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) said today that in the recent case of The Tribune’s report in which an FIR is filed, an impression is being created in media that UIDAI is targeting the media or whistleblowers or “shooting the messenger”. This is not at all true. This is a case in which even though there was no breach of Aadhaar biometric database, because UIDAI takes every criminal violation seriously, it is for the act of unauthorized access, criminal proceedings have been initiated.

UIDAI respects Free Speech including the Freedom of Press and Media.. However, UIDAI’s act of filing an FIR with full details of the incident should not be viewed as UIDAI targeting the media or the whistle-blowers or “shooting the messenger”.

It has to be understood that whenever a crime is noticed, the concerned person is required to report in the form of FIR (First Information Report) to police in which the entire details of the crime and the incident have to be disclosed to the police.

The full details of the incident as available needs to be provided with the names of persons known or unknown connected with the incident in the FIR complaint so that police or the investigating agency can take up a full and fair investigation and bring the culprits to justice. It does not necessarily mean that everyone mentioned in the FIR is a culprit unless after a thorough and fair investigation the person is chargesheeted and proved to be guilty beyond doubt in the court of law. But all those who have been there in the chain of incident in which the crime has been committed, have to be mentioned including unknowns in the FIR so that police can make proper investigation in the interest of justice.

In this case, UIDAI filed a complaint on 4th Jan. 2018 with full details of everyone involved in the incident on which an FIR no. 9/18 of PS Crime branch dated 5/1/2018 has been registered in Cyber Cell of Delhi Police against Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar, Raj, Rachna Khaira, The Tribune and other unknown persons for violations of Section 36 and 37 of Aadhaar Act, 2016, Section 419, 420, 468 and 471 of IPC and Section 66 of IT Act, 2000/8.

UIDAI is duty bound to disclose all the details of the case, which was in its knowledge at the time of filing the FIR, and name everyone who is an active participant in the chain of the events leading to commission of the crime, regardless whether the person is a journalist or anyone else, so that police can conduct proper investigation and bring the real culprit to justice. It does not mean that all those who are named in the report are necessarily guilty or being targeted. Whether one is guilty or not will be decided after police investigations and trial.

It would be instructive to refer to the views of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Rajat Prasad v. CBI, (2014) 6 SCC 495 at page 505 which is extracted hereinafter:-

“Thus, sting operations conducted by the law-enforcement agencies themselves in the above jurisdictions have not been recognised as absolute principles of crime detection and proof of criminal acts. Such operations by the enforcement agencies are yet to be experimented and tested in India and legal acceptance thereof by our legal system is yet to be answered. Nonetheless, the question that arises in the present case is what would be the position of such operations if conducted not by a State agency but by a private individual and the liability, not of the principal offender honeytrapped into committing the crime, but that of the sting operator who had stained his own hands while entrapping what he considers to be the main crime and the main offender. Should such an individual i.e. the sting operator be held to be criminally liable for commission of the offence that is inherent and inseparable from the process by which commission of another offence is sought to be established? Should the commission of the first offence be understood to be obliterated and extinguished in the face of claims of larger public interest that the sting operator seeks to make, namely, to expose the main offender of a serious crime injurious to public interest? Can the commission of the initial offence by the sting operator be understood to be without any criminal intent and only to facilitate the commission of the other offence by the “main culprit” and its exposure before the public? These are some of the ancillary questions that arise for our answer in the present appeals and that too at the threshold of the prosecution i.e. before the commencement of the trial.

The answer to the above, in our considered view would depend, as in any criminal case, on the facts and circumstances thereof. A crime does not stand obliterated or extinguished merely because its commission is claimed to be in public interest.

Any such principle would be abhorrent to our criminal jurisprudence. At the same time the criminal intent behind the commission of the act which is alleged to have occasioned the crime will have to be established before the liability of the person charged with the commission of crime can be adjudged. The doctrine of mens rea, though a salientfeature of the Indian criminal justice system, finds expression in different statutory provisions requiring proof of either intention or knowledge on the part of the accused. Such proof is to be gathered from the surrounding facts established by the evidence and materials before the court and not by a process of probe of the mental state of the accused which the law does not contemplate.The offence of abetment defined by Section 107 IPC or the offence of criminal conspiracy under Section 120-A IPC would, thus, require criminal intent on the part of the offender like any other offence.

Both the offences would require existence of a culpable mental state which is a matter of proof from the surrounding facts established by the materials on record. Therefore, whether the commission of an offence under Section 12 of the PC Act read with Section 120-B IPC had been occasioned by the acts attributed to the appellant-accused or not, ideally, is a matter that can be determined only after the evidence in the case is recorded.

What the appellant-accused assert is that in view of the fact that the sting operation was a journalistic exercise, no criminal intent can be imputed to the participants therein. Whether the operation was really such an exercise and the giving of bribe to A-1 was a mere sham or pretence or whether the giving of the bribe was with expectation of favours in connection with mining projects, are questions that can only be answered by the evidence of the parties which is yet to come. Such facts cannot be a matter of an assumption. Why in the present case there was a long gap (nearly 12 days) between the operation and the circulation thereof to the public is another relevant facet of the case that would require examination.

The inherent possibilities of abuse of the operation as videographed, namely, retention and use thereof to ensure delivery of the favours assured by the receiver of the bribe has to be excluded before liability can be attributed or excluded. This can happen only after the evidence of witnesses is recorded. Also, merely because in the charge-sheet it is stated that the accused had undertaken the operation to gain political mileage cannot undermine the importance of proof of the aforesaid facts to draw permissible conclusions on basis thereof as regards the criminal intent of the accused in the present case.”

Therefore, as per the ratio of the Hon’ble Supreme Court judgement, whether the actions of any journalist in committing an offence is for a public interest or part of a journalistic exercise has to be ascertained on the basis of evidence recorded in the case and the basic principle underlined was that “a crime does not stand obliterated or extinguished merely because its commission is claimed to be in public interest”.

Therefore, UIDAI as a statutory authority is duty bound to place all the facts before the police in order for a fair and impartial investigation to take place to arrive at the truth.

UIDAI would like to reassure everyone that there has absolutely been no breach of Aadhaar biometric database in any manner whatsoever. It also holds that the said Tribune report of Billion Aadhaar details on sale for Rs. 500 is clearly a case of misreporting being incorrect and misleading.

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