The National Investigating Agency (NIA) has been spending hours trying to decode Indian Mujahideen leader Yasin Bhatkal's laptop.
They know he was using a Yahoo email id. They know also that Bhatkal chatted on Yahoo messenger and Nimbuzz and that he seldom left an electronic trail. What the NIA may never get, though, are the exact contents of the chat - wherein terror strikes were planned and modules recruited - because the servers are based not in India but in America.
The NIA has requested its counterparts in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to share Bhatkal's electronic communication record but an officer told HT, "America has not been forthcoming in sharing digital data. They usually get back to us saying they are constrained by their stringent privacy laws."
Bhatkal's electronic record is only the latest instance in which the NIA has sought American help. Since the agency was founded in 2008, it has approached US authorities in a number of cases including the David Headley case, the Delhi high court blast case, the Indian Mujahideen case and cases pertaining to Maoists.
But the US has at best shared partial data. "Electronic communication records can be used as evidence in a court of law but despite reminders, we have drawn a blank," a government official told HT.
A US embassy spokesperson responded to HT's queries, saying, "The US and India are partners with robust cooperation in counterterrorism and law enforcement fields. We have informed our government of India counterparts of the proper procedures for making information requests that are in accordance with US laws."
Basically, the US has urged Indian investigators to put in 'emergency requests' with service providers on the promise that they will follow up, but NIA officials say they are disappointed with the response.
The only way out, they say, lies in the China example, wherein Beijing does not allow internet companies to operate out of its territory unless their servers are based there. But that is a long-term solution.
Till then, investigators fear they will continue to be outsmarted by the tech-savvy terrorists. As one of them said, "We are far behind in the game. We were still using landlines when the terrorists moved online. By the time we woke up to that, they'd switched to superior techniques like voice-over internet protocol (VOIP), which is difficult to monitor."