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Tuesday, 09 January 2018 10:29

Police probe sought after India biometric data leak reported Featured

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Indian authorities have asked the police to investigate The Tribune newspaper and one of its reporters after the publication of a report that claimed personal details of Indian citizens, submitted to the country's Aadhaar authority, were being sold cheaply online.

Aadhaar, which means "foundation", is a 12-digit unique ID number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. It is an ambitious attempt to create a digital resource for controlling what a resident can, and cannot do. It has more than 1.19 billion enrolled members as of 30 November 2017.

The investigation was sought by the so-called Unique Identification Authority of India into the report written by journalist Rachna Khaira and three individuals — Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar and Raj — who were named by Khaira as sources for her story.

New Delhi police confirmed to the Indian Express newspaper that a first investigation report or FIR had been registered and an investigation had been launched. The FIR is a written document prepared by police when they receive information about the commission of a cognisable offence.

Khaira's story, published on 3 January, said that the newspaper had subscribed to a service on the messaging app WhatsApp which offered unrestricted access to any of the one billion-plus Aadhaar numbers created for Indian citizens.

The story said that for the payment of Rs500 (approximately $10 at today's rates) which was paid through the Paytm payment service, Khaira was provided a login and password in just 10 minutes to access details of any Aadhaar number.

A day after the story appeared, the UIDAI issued an official release, claiming that all Aadhaar data was "fully safe". The FIR was filed the same day.

The story also said that for the payment of another Rs300 ($6), the payee was provided software that facilitated the printing of the Aadhaar card.

Khaira wrote that she had contacted UIDAI officials in Chandigarh in the state of Punjab who had expressed shock at being told that complete details of individuals was accessible. At the time, they are said to have admitted that it appeared to be a major security breach.

UIDAI's deputy director B.M. Patnaik, who works with the organisation's logistics and grievance redressal department, said in the FIR: "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.”

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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