Tuesday March 19, 2019
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Whistleblower Act: Honest lives lost, protective law yet to see the light of day

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panday

By NewsGram Staff Writer

Prashant Pandey, the whistleblower who exposed the “Vyapam Scam” is scared for his life.

The tense situation Pandey finds himself in, is due to the removal of security cover accorded by the Delhi Police under the direction of the Delhi High Court.

According to a Delhi Police official, the reason for the withdrawal of Pandey’s security is that the petition had been disposed off and, in the final order, there was no mention of any security to be provided to him.

“There is no security from Delhi Police. The security personnel have been withdrawn. I fear for my security and for my family,” said Pandey while talking to PTI.

The digital forensics expert from Madhya Pradesh is known for uncovering the massive admission and recruitment scam in Madhya Pradesh which involved businessmen, politicians and other renowned senior officials.

After the unearthing of the scam in 2013, the Medical Council of India and the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board were also served notices by the Madhya Pradesh High Court.

Following the astounding disclosure, the whistleblower had a miraculous escape from the jaws of death, when a truck hit his car on the Indore-Mhow earlier this month.

Pandey also claims that he was framed by a senior IPS officer for allegedly possessing Call Data Records(CDR) of many individuals, following which he was arrested by the Bhopal Police in August last year.

Moreover, the state government filed a report in the Delhi High Court saying that Pandey holds a criminal background.

Such a desperate reaction by the state government comes after the Madhya Pradesh High Court-appointed Special Investigation Team(SIT), while being supervised by the state’s Special Task Force, discovered the role of senior state government officials and politicians in the scam.

Such a state-led backlash on exposers of truth is not an isolated case of the apathy with which the whistleblowers are treated in the country.

Earlier, in November 2003, Satyendra Dubey, a National Highways Authority of India(NHAI) engineer was murdered after he exposed corruption in the construction of highways.

According to the data compiled by Bloomberg, at least 12 whistleblowers have been killed since January 2010. More than 40 people have been assaulted for seeking information.

Niyamat Ansari, a Jharkhand resident who registered complaints against the winning bidders of the public-works contract under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, was dragged from his house and beaten to death.

In spite of such overwhelming cases of gruesome crimes committed against whistleblowers, little action has been undertaken by the government to protect the rights of whistleblowers.

The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, a law meant to empower and protect people who report corruption, was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2011 but is still awaiting amendments in the Rajya Sabha.

As per activists, even if the law is passed, it is virtually toothless.

The law does not provide any protection to whistleblowers who disclose information under the Officials Secrets Act, a law which covers documents classified by the government, including defense deals.

Moreover, information termed as “unwarranted invasion of privacy”, will also not be covered under the act.

“The government is going back on its basic moral obligation of protecting whistleblowers,” said Anjali Bharadwaj of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information to NDTV.

Foreign countries hold a lesson for India in this regard. Strong anti-corruption laws such as the UK Bribery Act and US Corrupt Practices Act curtail the hedonist behaviour to an extent.

In the United Kingdom, The Public Interest Disclosure Act has given significant protection to the whistleblower from the employer.

The United States provides protection from retaliation in cases where whistleblowing is related to a specific topic protected by statute.

India on the other hand, is still struggling hard to put a worthwhile whistleblower protection legislation on the table.

How many more honest lives can India afford to lose, before it wakes up from its slumber?

Next Story

Aadhaar Data Breach Report Incorrect: High Court

Citing the top court's judgement, the petitioner said that when the state violates the constitutional rights of a citizen, courts may award compensation

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Aadhaar Card Logo. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on Thursday told the Delhi High Court that reports regarding security breach of data related to Aadhaar is incorrect and misleading as the strongest encryption technology has been used to store data which is impossible to decrypt.

“The technology used is 2048-bit encryption, which is the strongest one and it is impossible to decrypt and extract any information even if enrolment packets were accessible during transit to the UIDAI data centre,” UIDAI told a bench of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Prateek Jalan.

The bench was hearing a plea seeking exemplary damages for the losses caused due to leakage of Aadhaar data.

The plea was filed by Shamnad Basheer alleging that the dissemination of personal information of Aadhaar holders made it clear that the government is responsible for any breach of right to informational privacy.

E-Aadhaar card.

In an affidavit, the government agecy said that Aadhaar data is fully secured at all times and for further strengthening of security and privacy of data, security audits are conducted on regular basis, and all possible steps are taken to make the data safer and protected.

It further added that there are multiple layers of security at physical level in UIDAI data centres and is being managed by armed Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel round-the-clock.

“The technical architecture of Aadhaar has been structured in such a way, so as to ensure clear data verification, authentication and de-duplication, while ensuring a high level of privacy and information security,” the UIDAI said.

“UIDAI has taken all necessary safeguards, starting from providing standardised software that encrypts the entire data even before saving it to any disk; protecting data using tamper-proofing; identifying every operator in all and every enrolment; and identifying every one of the thousands of machines using an unique registration process, which ensures every encrypted data is tracked,” read the reply copy filed by the UIDAI.

Countering Basheer’s claim, the agency also said that the petitioner is trying to re-agitate the same issues which have attained finality before the Supreme Court and therefore the present petition deserves to be dismissed with costs.

Aadhaar Card. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

It said that the petition is based on a mere assumption that the general public is likely to be aggrieved.

“In the entire petition, there is not even a mention as to how the petitioner is aggrieved by the actions of the UIDAI and how his constitutional rights have been violated to entitle him to damages claimed by him,” the UIDAI said.

Adding that there is no merit in the application, UIDAI, in its reply, said: “The alleged facts (leakage of Aadhaar data) on the basis of which the petitioner has filed the plea are unsubstantiated statements and the information relating to the Aadhaar scheme has been grossly misreported and interpolated to mislead this court.

“The petitioner has pivoted his entire case around the misleading and unverified reports in the media regarding security breach of data related to Aadhaar, which is entirely denied as incorrect and misinformed.”

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The agency requested the court to dismiss the plea with cost as the petitioner has no locus standi to file this application.

The petitioner has said his constitutional rights have been violated due to the negligence of UIDAI.

Citing the top court’s judgement, the petitioner said that when the state violates the constitutional rights of a citizen, courts may award compensation.

Basheer has also requested the court to appoint an independent committee comprising multiple experts to investigate the scope, extent of breaches and the magnitude of harm caused due to data leak. (IANS)