Insights into Editorial: All you need to know about NATGRID

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Insights into Editorial: All you need to know about NATGRID

14 July 2016

Senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Ashok Patnaikhas been appointed as the CEO of National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) by the government. This shows that the present government is more serious about NATGRID. The appointment in the post of CEO, which has been lying vacant for several months, came a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the working of the Natgrid.

What is the NATGRID?

NATGRID is an ambitious counter terrorism programme, which will utilise technologies like Big Data and analytics to study and analyse the huge amounts of data from various intelligence and enforcement agencies to help track suspected terrorists and prevent terrorist attacks. It will connect, in different phases, data providing organisations and users besides developing a legal structure through which information can be accessed by the law enforcement agencies.

Background:

NATGRID is a post Mumbai 26/11 attack measure. It aims to mitigate a vital deficiency — lack of real time information, which was considered to be one of the major hurdles in detecting US terror suspect David Headley’s movement across the country during his multiple visits between 2006 and 2009.

It’s role:

  • NATGRID will become a secure centralised database to stream sensitive information from 21 sets of data sources such as banks, credit cards, visa, immigration and train and air travel details, as well as from various intelligence agencies.
  • The database would be accessible to authorised persons from 11 agencies on a case-to-case basis, and only for professional investigations into suspected cases of terrorism.

Developments so far:

In the first phase, 10 user agencies and 21 service providers will be connected, while in later phases about 950 additional organisations will be connected. In subsequent years, over 1,000 additional organisations will be connected.

  • While the clearance for the Rs 3,400-crore project from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) came in 2011, execution of the project slowed down after the exit of then home minister P Chidambaram in July 2012.
  • Currently, there are around 70 personnel, drawn from both the government and private sectors, in NATGRID.

How is it different from NCTC and NIA?

Unlike the NCTC and the NIA which are central organisations, the NATGRID is essentially a tool that enables security agencies to locate and obtain relevant information on terror suspects from pooled data of various organisations and services in the country. It will help identify, capture and prosecute terrorists and help preempt terrorist plots.

Criticisms:

  • NATGRID is facing opposition on charges of possible violations of privacy and leakage of confidential personal information.
  • Its efficacy in preventing terror has also been questioned given that no state agency or police force has access to its database thus reducing chances of immediate, effective action.
  • According to few experts, digital databases such as NATGRID can be misused. Over the last two decades, the very digital tools that terrorists use have also become great weapons to fight the ideologies of violence.
  • The Snowden files have already revealed the widespread misuse in recent years of surveillance capabilities to compromise individual privacy and even violate national sovereignty.

Why do we need NATGRID?

The danger from not having a sophisticated tool like the NATGRID is that it forces the police to rely on harsh and coercive means to extract information in a crude and degrading fashion. After every terrorist incident, it goes about rounding up suspects—many of who are innocent. If, instead, a pattern search and recognition system were in place, these violations of human rights would be much fewer.

  • Natgrid would also help the police and the Intelligence Bureau keep a tab on persons with suspicious backgrounds. The police would have access to all his data and any movement by this person would also be tracked with the help of this data base.

Conclusion:

In its present form, NATGRID suffers from few inadequacies, some due to bureaucratic red tape and others due to fundamental flaws in the system. If the government takes enough measures to ensure that information does not fall through the firewalls that guard it, NATGRID has the potential to become India’s go-to grid for a 360-degree perspective to prevent and contain crises.