NATGRID will prove to be a security nightmare
By V Balachandran, The Sunday Guardian, June 20, 2011
This column is about NATGRID (National Intelligence Grid), which is supposed to improve our counter-terrorist capability. But first let me tell you a story. Three years after my retirement, my friend introduced me to a Mumbai bulk garment exporter who had a problem. Once a leading figure in this trade, his business had collapsed by 1990. His problem started soon after making a confidential declaration under the 1997 Voluntary Disclosure Scheme. He started receiving extortion threats from the "underworld", quoting the exact figures he had revealed to the income-tax authorities. I then referred him to the Mumbai police commissioner.
This incident is relevant while examining the "NATGRID" data transfer system originally unveiled by Home Minister P. Chidambaram in December 2009 and operational now. Ten "user" Central agencies will be able to electronically access 21 sensitive databases, now held in several areas like banks, credit card, internet, cell phones, immigration, motor vehicle departments, railways, National Crime Records Bureau, SEBI and Income Tax Department. Along with the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS), which will integrate the Central and state crime data, NATGRID will give a suspect's "360 degree" profile. The Home Minister told a TV channel (12 June) that incidents like 26/11 or Headley's repeated visits to India could be prevented or detected by this system. He also discounted the possibility of NATGRID violating any privacy, since it will not "store" the data, but only facilitate transfer. Data will continue to be "owned" by the 21 databases. This data vehicle will have the highest security firewalls and its own management hierarchy. Hence, the fears of the Ministry of Home Affairs becoming a Leviathan are also unfounded.
I am not sure that NATGRID will prevent incidents like 26/11, because the state police or different defence departments are not mentioned among the 10 "user agencies". As a member of the state government appointed 26/11 enquiry committee, which, however, was not allowed to examine the Central agencies, it is my impression that intelligence pointers already available with some Central agencies were not communicated to the state government or the Navy and Coast Guard. How will NATGRID help if the agencies are not willing to share current intelligence? As for Headley's repeated visits, why did the Intelligence Bureau, which controls the computerised Bureau of Immigration, need NATGRID to tell them this information which was already with them?
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For Background: See
India's Counterterrorism Strategy 2004-08: flawed Political Approaches - South Asia Analysis Group
"Improving India's Counterterrorism Policy after Mumbai" - CTC Sentinel, volume 2, issue 4
The Militaization of India By Yasmin Qureshi - Counterpunch
India Approves Anti-Terror Database - VOA
Security and Counterterrorism in India - STATFOR