Updated 6:56 am, Dec 07, 2018

DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER | SNE

By  SNE WEBDESK .
Jan 12, 2018

WhatsApp Image 2018-01-11 at 9.44.27 PM

The present government thinks that by shooting the messenger all the evil aspirations and nefarious designs can be brushed under the carpet. The government wants to take high moral ground by projecting that there is no corruption in the system. Little realising that supressing the information and harassing the media persons cannot hide truth.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has filed an FIR against the journalist Rachna Khaira of the Punjab-based newspaper ‘The Tribune’ following a report on how anonymous agents were selling leaked Aadhar information over WhatsApp.

Rather than appreciating journalist’s path breaking story on corruption and setting an inquiry to stop the leak of information. It was rather undemocratic to file an FIR against the journalist to supress freedom of expression. It is not the first time the present government has done this in March 2017, a similar FIR was filed against a CNN-News 18 journalist following the airing of a news clip showing that it was possible to obtain two separate Aadhaar enrolment numbers with the same set of biometrics.

In place of setting its house in order and taking the action against the guilty, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) denied breach or leak of Aadhaar data. It issued public statement in the media, “The Aadhaar data, including biometric information, is fully safe and secure,” calling the report in The Tribune “a case of misreporting” “UIDAI assures that there has not been any Aadhaar data breach,” adding that the data was secure with a “robust uncompromised security”.

The authority said it had given search facility for the purpose of grievance redressal to designated personnel and state government officials to help residents only by entering their 12-digit Aadhaar numbers.

It is very hard to digest the present statement of Unique Identification Authority of India because it has so far suspended nearly 50,000 enrolment operators for violating the process guidelines for Aadhaar enrolment till date. If there was no leak then why did Unique Identification Authority of India suspend the services of so many enrolment operators. What is it that the government is trying to hide? Its baffling to lean that (UIDAI) is still denying breach or leak of Aadhaar data. Is there any transparency and coordination between government departments or not can be understood by this.

On one hand Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is in a denial mode on the other Minister of State for Electronics and IT, Alphons Kannanthanam accepts on the floor of Rajya Sabha breach in the Aadhaar enrolment.

Minister of State for Electronics and IT, Alphons Kannanthanam said in a written reply to Rajya Sabha, “As on date, about 50,000 Aadhaar enrolment operators have been suspended for violating process guidelines relating to Aadhaar enrolment.” If the minister is accepting the data breach on the floor of the house then why is Unique Identification Authority of India trying to hide everything under the fig-leaf?

Of late Aadhaar scheme has come under the scanner and there are several legal issues related to the safety and security of the data and right of privacy issue which need to be addressed. The Aadhaar scheme kicked off by the UPA was implemented more vigorously by the Narendra Modi government as a scheme to combat corruption, ensuring gas and farm subsidies are received directly in the bank accounts of beneficiaries. Now with its soft underbelly exposed, the legal challenge to Aadhaar has become even more important. It started with a bunch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the identification scheme. The government argued that there was no Fundamental Right to Privacy and so Aadhaar is a scheme that the government could implement at its discretion. 

The matter is sub-judice, the Supreme Court has to first decide whether ‘privacy’ is indeed a ‘Fundamental Right’. After two years, on August 24, 2017 the Supreme Court held that all citizens enjoy the Fundamental Right to Privacy, protected by Article 21 of the Constitution.

Over the next three months the Supreme Court will now decide whether or not the UIDAI programme violates the Fundamental Right of Privacy. If the court goes with the naysayers, the Aadhaar card will become just another voluntary identity card; if the government wins the case, Big Brother will become Bigger and Bossy Brother.

The government seems to be in no mood to accept Aadhaar card as just another document. It wants to make Aadhaar card a mandatory document for multispecialty government and administrative schemes. That said, government is not willing to hear or accept that the government scheme is bad or it has any loop hole.  Freedom of expression is tested during times of anger and conflict and enables all opinions and outraged expressions of dissent that we may not want to hear. But the government should be bold enough to accept the challenges and rectify its policies if they are undemocratic or are not acceptable to the public.

The government and its agencies should stop using FIRs as strong arm tactics against Journalists, as Mamata Banerjee chief Minister of West Bengal and Congress party says.  Governments that blocks the aspirations of their people, that steal or are corrupt, that oppress and torture or that deny freedom of expression and human rights should bear in mind that they will find it increasingly hard to escape the judgement of their own people during elections. So the government should stop shooting the messenger and accept the message-good or bad.

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