The National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's ambitious project, was given in-principle approval by the Union government on Monday.

A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, cleared the project that will facilitate robust information-sharing among law enforcement agencies to combat terror threats at home and abroad.

The Home Ministry made a detailed presentation on the project as well as on the safeguards and oversight mechanisms for the Cabinet Committee.

“The CCS has given in-principle approval to the project and has instructed the Home Ministry to proceed accordingly,” an official spokesperson said.

The NATGRID will pool information from 21 categories of database such as railway and air travel, income tax, bank account details, credit card transactions and visa and immigration records.

As per the initial plan, access to the combined data will be given to 11 agencies, including 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.

‘Turf war'

The idea to set up a mechanism for pooling data was floated after the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008. In the past year, the project was delayed by the “turf war” among stakeholders, especially the Ministries of Defence and Finance that felt the Home Ministry would have an unhindered access to all information. The detailed project report was ready in December last, and the government proposed to implement the project by May this year. Last month, the government extended the services of NATGRID Chief Executive Officer Raghu Raman for six months from June 1.

Questions about safeguards

Concerns about privacy and potential misuse of information for political ends were voiced. Some Ministers raised questions about the safeguards and favoured further study, forcing the CCS to withhold its approval last year.

The 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.

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