Army personnel patrol near Awantipora.(Photo by Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times)
Army personnel patrol near Awantipora.(Photo by Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times)

NATGRID, India’s tech-powered database to fight terror, to roll out in March

The NATGRID will service only those agencies cleared by the Union Cabinet. State police forces will not be able to access the database initially, the official added.
By Sudhi Ranjan Sen | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 30, 2020 10:59 AM IST

A master database of 21 databases designed to provide real-time information to fight terror and crime will be rolled out by the end of March, officials aware of the matter said on condition of anonymity. The database or the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) involves data including that related to credit and debit cards, tax, telecom, immigration, airlines and railway tickets, passports, driving licenses, they added. It will be available for nine central agencies including the Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing, the Enforcement Directorate and Department of Revenue Intelligence.

“The NATGRID will service only those agencies cleared by the Union Cabinet,” one of the officials cited above said. State police forces will not be able to access the database initially, the official added.

The second phase of the database will involve big data analysis for generating alerts for agencies. It is expected to be rolled out by the end of 2020, a second official said.

The NATGRID will involve high-end algorithms designed especially for the database. The programme has been designed by the National Informatics Centre and is capable of analysing data and behaviour to generate trends and leads for the agencies to follow-up, the second official said. “What needs underlining is there is no human interface and therefore chances of the system being misused are almost impossible.”

The NATGRID was proposed after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks but generated controversy primarily over concerns about privacy and also because the states were uncomfortable with the idea. Red-tape compounded the problem, the officials said. The Union Cabinet cleared the NATGRID in 2011 and allocated Rs 3,400 crore for it.

The officials said Union home Minister Amit Shah has imposed a “blanket ban” on “hiring private individuals” for the NATGRID given the sensitive nature of the database and perhaps keeping in mind the apprehensions about privacy, the second official said.

The policy governing the database is in contrast to the one the previous Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had conceived for the NATGRID. The UPA was open to hiring private individuals from different fields to increase the effectiveness of the database.

To address privacy concerns, every query raised with the NARGRID by agencies will leave an indelible audit trail. “And the queries raised will be reviewed by a board of independent experts including professors from IITs [Indian Institutes of Technology] to ensure that the system has not been misused,” a third senior official said. “Contrary to fears, the activation of NATGRID will prevent rogue elements within the system from carrying fishing expeditions. Queries will have to be raised through a designated system, which leaves an audit trail. Importantly, telecom companies, immigration bureau will not respond to queries unless they are raised through the designated system.”

Former NATGRID CEO Raghu Raman said the database has been created to create an environment to convince terrorist and their sympathisers that they are certain to be caught. “India must learn to leverage its national capacity... The NATGRID becoming active is an extremely positive step.”

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