The journo who exposed Aadhar. Rachna Khaira talks

Afsal Rahman CA

Meet Rachna Khaira, the lady journo who exposed the “much boasted of” security of the Aadhar. Being the Senior Staff correspondent of the Jalandhar bureau of “The Tribune” she revealed that anyone can buy the Aadhar details of anyone in the country for just Rs. 500 in a groundbreaking investigation published a couple of months ago. Edward Snowden, the famous whistleblower had congratulated her for the daring efforts. Like in many other cases, she was countered by the UIDAI  by registering a complaint against her. An investigative reporter by profession, the journalist had highlighted serious lacunas in the children adoption process adopted by Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) in India where children reported as missing in various police stations of Punjab were found in adoption to foreign nationals. Following is a brief interview with her:

What is the current status of the case registered against you? What are the charges accused?

As of now, I would say., status quo. Not heard my name getting deleted from the complaint or the FIR quashed!

Would you expect your investigation to have any effect on the privacy and Aadhar cases undergoing a hearing in the Supreme Court?

 Sure… the attention of the international media and cyber experts like Edward Snowden and French researcher Robert Baptiste has highlighted the issue at the international level. Even French researcher Robert Baptiste to had exposed serious chunks in the Aadhaar ecosystem created byte UIDAI.

Surprisingly when Indians were winning the majority of the Bug bounty programmes across the world, no one in India had dared to test the Aadhar ECO system fearing legal implications.

I welcome the immediate respite offered by the Supreme Court to extend the deadline of linking Aadhaar with various public utility services.

What was the response from your colleagues and your institution regarding your operation? Were they of complete support throughout?

 Yes! they were all happy and the Tribune is providing me with all legal support. The Tribune has even announced cash award for me. My former editor in Chief Harish  Khare too had Announced a cash award in his personal capacity.

However, getting a handwritten letter from my EIC stating that this kind of award has been conferred for the first time by the Tribune Trust in its history of 137 years was a great moment for me to cherish forever!

Have the UIDAI rectified the mechanisms; Or is it still prone to such data thefts?

Since the major problem is in the process of collecting and storing the data, the issue has not been addressed properly.

What do you think is the reason for the UIDAI is still keen on getting personal details of citizens without rectifying faults?

They do not have a reverse gear!

Has any action been taken those really accused?

Not aware of the issue

What, do you feel is the real reason for the absence of public outrage even after a grave mistake?

 Lack of awareness on this grave issue is the only reason. During a recent visit to the office of Deputy Commissioner at Jalandhar, over 2000 Aadhaar cards were found lying abandoned at a counter. When asked, the Aadhaar operators informed that people gave their biometrics to get the cards printed and never came back to take it.

Is government breaching citizens personal security in the name of national security?

At this juncture, the most serious concern is to question the preparedness of govt in securing Aadhaar data.

How much safe is the information (including bio-metric details) which citizens share during enrolling in Adhar?

No secure at all! It may be possible that someone is already in possession of the biometrics.

Can we expect follow-ups for your story?

A story which is related to the lives of every Indian surely will have follow-ups.

When looked at similar investigative stories, there were efforts by the state to suppress voices using its machinery. Your comments

As I said earlier,’They tried to bury us. they do not know we were seeds!… The fight will go on and on till the time there is Rachna Khaira present in every Newsroom.

Do you believe if any impunity given for free and fair journalism practices in the Indian judicial system?

There is a dire need to strengthen the laws protecting journalists and activists in the country.

(Afsal Rahman CA is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi).

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