By Sharanya Gopinathan
Surely you’ve heard of the truly shocking UIDAI data breach story by now, as well as the FIR that’s been filed against the reporter who broke it, Rachna Khaira, but there’s good reason for women to be particularly concerned about it.
The Tribune published an expose on 3 January about a truly shocking and massive data breach of Aadhaar data, claiming that it took the newspaper just Rs 500 and 10 minutes to get an agent to give them access to every detail any individual has provided the UIDAI. These details include names, home addresses, photographs, phone numbers and email IDs.
Of course, the UIDAI claimed that there was no breach and that all data was secure, and then promptly filed an FIR against Rachna Khaira, the journalist who broke the story. An FIR has been filed under sections 419 (punishment for cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery) and 471 (using as genuine a forged document) of the IPC. Basically, the state responded to information that citizens’ data was dangerously unprotected by shooting the messenger. Don’t worry though, Khaira has said she has no intention of backing down, and that there’s plenty more to come. Amusingly, she also said that she’s “earned” this FIR, which is a pretty intriguing and overall kind of depressing way for journalists to look at their work.
Anyway, while the state’s vicious reaction to this expose and the journalist behind it is concerning in itself, it’s not the only reason for women to be worried. You don’t need to look too far afield to realise just how dangerous it is for women’s personal details, especially their phone numbers, photographs and email IDs, to be out in the public domain for anyone to access, especially in the absence of a properly implemented law against stalking.
Just last February, police officials in Uttar Pradesh told the Hindustan Times that owners of mobile phone recharge shops had been selling women’s phone numbers to men, who promptly used those numbers to harass them. Most women seem to have had personal experiences with something like this, and nod knowingly when you ask them if they’ve ever suspected that creeps had gotten their numbers from recharge shops. So much so that Vodafone even responded to this clearly-rampant problem with their Vodafone Sakhi Recharge program in Haryana, to help women recharge their phones without sharing their number with strangers.
If recharge shop owners are able to cause this much harassment to women just by distributing their phone numbers to random men in the area, imagine the targeted damage that a data leak this huge and comprehensive could do. It basically means that anybody, especially stalkers, can have unprecedented access to the details of their victims, which, if previous cases are anything to go by, is a particularly horrifying and violent prospect for Indian women.
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