PICTURE THIS.¬†A terrorist has been arrested in Kashmir‚Äôs Anantnag district. During interrogation, he reveals that two of his fellow operatives are from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. As of now, the procedure is that the interrogator would write a report to be perused by his senior officers. If and when they read it, the information will then be forwarded to their counterparts in the relevant states, who will forward it to the district superintendent of police. This winding process often takes a month.
But from May 2011, there will be major changes in the way such data is handled across India. With the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) in place, the interrogator will immediately feed the data into the Natgrid and the Coimbatore Police will get instant updates. They can not only mail back specific questions to the interrogators, but also, if required, send someone to join the investigation right away. All thanks to Natgrid.
Natgrid, the brainchild of Home Minister P Chidambaram, is based on the US model. It will integrate the existing 21 databases with Central and state government agencies and other organisations in the public and private sector such as banks, insurance companies, stock exchanges, airlines, railways, telecom service providers, chemical vendors, etc.
Eleven government agencies (including RAW, Intelligence Bureau, Revenue Intelligence, Income Tax, etc.) will be able to access sensitive personal information of any individual ‚ÄĒ such as bank accounts, insurance policies, property owned or rented, travel, income tax returns, driving records, automobiles owned or leased, credit card transactions, stock market trades, phone calls, emails and SMSes, websites visited, etc. A national population registry will be established by the 2011 Census, during which fingerprints and iris scans would be taken along with GPS records of each household.
Once the Natgrid is in place, security agencies will need to just feed your name into the system and all information about you will be available at the click of a button. Apart from this, important information that every police or intelligence agency receives will also be fed to the grid, thereby enabling the agencies to coordinate their strategy.
According to the home ministry, the Central intelligence agencies and state police have plenty of information that is not shared or because there is no umbrella organisation to collate all the information, which any or all the agencies can share to generate real-time intelligence. The Natgrid enables quick extraction of information, data mining, pattern recognition and flagging ‚Äėtripwires‚Äô of suspicious or unusual activities.
With a budget of Rs. 2,800 crore and a staff of 300, the Natgrid is headed by Raghu Raman, an ex-serviceman who previously headed the Mahindra Special Service Groups, a leading player in risk and governance consulting.
Natgrid will integrate existing 21 databases with Central and state government agencies and other organisations
BUT WILL¬†the Natgrid really improve our national security? Or will it merely duplicate the existing intelligence mechanism? ‚ÄúNatgrid is all about instant communication,‚ÄĚ says former Intelligence Bureau director Ajit Doval. ‚ÄúIt will help in dissemination of data ‚ÄĒ everybody will be in the loop. It will function like a power grid, where every state shares power stored in it. A major hurdle in the fight against terrorism is that many intelligence agencies are wary about sharing information with each other. In the US, the CIA does not talk to the FBI, which keeps the NSA at bay. In the UK, the MI5, MI6 and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) are known to have turf battles. In India, the RAW regards the IB and MEA as more of an enemy than it does the ISI.‚ÄĚ