Concerns over privacy and potential misuse of information for political ends hold up the plan.
The Union Home Ministry’s ambitious proposal to set up a National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) by pooling data from nearly a dozen law enforcement and intelligence agencies appears to have run into rough weather over concerns about privacy and potential misuse of information for political ends.
At last week’s meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the Natgrid proposal was discussed in depth. Some Ministers raised queries about safeguards and said there was a need for further study. In the end, the CCS withheld its nod and asked the Home Ministry to come back after further consultation with all stakeholders.
Highly placed sources said the main objections raised at the meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, revolved around the need to put in place a more elaborate safety mechanism for upholding the privacy of citizens. But discussions veered around to the political scenario in which a United Progressive Alliance regime might no longer be in power and in which the informational opportunities provided by Natgrid could possibly be misused by another ruling party.
With an eye on flagging potential terrorist threats, Natgrid will give access to 21 categories of databases, including railway and air travel, income tax, phone calls, bank account details, credit card transactions, visa and immigration records, property records and the driving licences of citizens. Last month, the Home Ministry sent the proposal to the Ministries of External Affairs, Defence, Finance and Telecom for their suggestions before taking it to the CCS for approval.
Though the CCS praised Home Minister P. Chidambaram for overhauling and galvanising the internal security machinery, the sources said, it wanted to ensure a “foolproof” intelligence network, where the concentration of information did not go unchecked and enough safeguards were put in place.
Proposing new internal security architecture, in a speech to the Intelligence Bureau on December 23, Mr. Chidambaram stressed the need to network all databases that contained vital information and intelligence. “Today, each database stands alone. It does not talk to another database. Nor can the ‘owner’ of one database access another database. As a result, crucial information that rests in one database is not available to another agency ... Under Natgrid, 21 sets of databases will be networked to achieve quick, seamless and secure access to desired information for intelligence/ enforcement agencies. This project is likely to be completed in 18-24 months from now,” Mr. Chidambaram had stated.
If and when approved by the CCS, agencies such as the Research and Analysis Wing, the Intelligence Bureau, the Enforcement Directorate, the National Investigation Agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) would have access to the consolidated data as and when needed.