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Panning the government for its “shoot the messenger” outlook on the matter, Snowden said instead of prosecuting the journalist, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) should be penalized for the alleged leak.

“The journalists exposing the Aadhaar breach deserve an award, not an investigation. If the government were truly concerned for justice, they would be reforming the policies that destroyed the privacy of a billion Indians. Want to arrest those responsible? They are called UIDAI,” Snowden said in a tweet.

The UIDAI, a statutory body that oversees the world’s largest biometric identity card scheme, was left red-faced following a report in The Tribune that claimed an “agent” on Whatsapp could provide unrestricted access to any Aadaar number for a paltry sum of Rs 500.

UIDAI denied that the breach allowed access to millions of Aadhaar cardholders’ details and called The Tribune report a case of misreporting. It then filed an FIR against the newspaper and the scribe, adding that the action should not be viewed as one targeting the media or a whistleblower. The move has been roundly condemned, with opposition parties dubbing it as “muzzling dissent” and journalist’s bodies demanding the FIR be withdrawn.

Facing fire, the Centre on Monday avowed its commitment to the freedom of press, and said it will approach the newspaper and its reporter for cooperation in investigating the purported data breach.

“The government is fully committed to freedom of press as well as to maintaining security and sanctity of Aadhaar for India’s development… I’ve suggested UIDAI to request Tribune and its journalist to give all assistance to police in investigating real offenders,” IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted.

Previously, Snowden had tweeted that the Aadhaar database conceived and introduced by the Indian government can also be misused and abused.

“It is the natural tendency of government to desire perfect records of private lives. History shows that no matter the laws, the result is abuse,” he’d said.

American whistleblower Edward Snowden delivered a firm reproof to the Indian government for “destroying the privacy” of its citizens and spoke out in support of the reporter who broke the Aadhaar data breach story.

By- Nikita Goel, Convenor, Student Reporter Committee, INBA

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