Intel agencies warn against using foreign satellite for CCTNS project

Warned by intelligence agencies that using a foreign satellite in the proposed nationwide Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) could make critical databases vulnerable to eavesdropping by other countries, the Union Home Ministry has decided to take the help of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to make the project fully indigenous.

When fully operational, the much-delayed CCTNS project will connect 14,000 police stations across all the 28 States and seven Union Territories, thus creating a nationwide networking infrastructure for the evolution of an IT-enabled, state-of-the-art tracking system for crime investigation and detection of criminals.

The CCTNS is a group of some 820 VSATs (two-way ground satellite systems) that will be networked by a satellite. The BSNL was the original agency in charge of providing ground services.

Since the intelligence agencies raised objections to the proposed use of the IPSTAR satellite managed by Thaicomm in the project, the BSNL diverted to this project some 400 VSATs that it had for other services.

The remaining VSATs are to be installed by the BSNL working with the ISRO, and the satellite link would be provided by the ISRO.

A recent note exchanged between the Home Ministry and the Department of Telecom says: “On subsequent deliberations within the Ministry on the concerns and security risks involved in using a foreign satellite for the premier and highly secured CCTNS network in consultation with IB and NTRO, later BSNL was asked by the (Home) Ministry to deploy the CCTNS network on an Indian satellite,” the note adds.

Citing the objections raised by these agencies, the official document says: “If the CCTNS data is routed/transmitted through a foreign satellite manufactured in Thailand, all the critical database(s) would be exposed to all the nations falling in the satellite footprint. Hence, transporting sensitive data through the same may have ramifications on the national security environment.”

Using a foreign satellite increases the “risk of eavesdropping either by the service provider or through off-the-air monitoring by any target countries which may have footprint of the satellite,” the note adds. Notably, through IPSTAR, Thaicomm provides services in almost a dozen nations, including Pakistan and China.

A senior Home Ministry official, who is closely associated with the project, says when this issue was raised by intelligence agencies, the Ministry was in a fix as the CCTNS needed connectivity to be useful.

“Though states are putting up the infrastructure required for the project at their police stations and interconnecting them within states, a nationwide grid is still missing and it would take months before ISRO and BSNL comes up with the required infrastructure of a satellite-based communication network on the ground,” he noted.

Conceived in 2009 by the then Home Minister P. Chidambaram after the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, the CCTNS should have been fully operation by March 2012, but now due to various delays, including the satellite connectivity issue, it is expected to be ready by 2015. Though Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde formally launched the project in January this year, it would not be able to realise its potential till all the police stations are interconnected through a satellite-based communication network.