Pvt firms, PSUs set to get access to crime database
In a controversial decision, the Centre has decided to give companies, including state-owned ones, access to the national database of crimes and criminals across the country for the purpose of background checks, people familiar with the development said. Currently, companies have to make such requests to the police.
The idea, they added on condition of anonymity, is to monetise this data; companies will be charged for the background check. But internet activists say that the move could lead to misuse of data, and discrimination.
Having access to this repository of data on arrests, convictions, ongoing investigations, court cases, and lists of proclaimed offenders, companies will be able to verify people’s criminal history on their own before hiring them.
Right now, only the government and police have exclusive access to this crucial and sensitive data.
The ministry of home affairs (MHA) has already given its approval to monetise the CCTNS national data centre, also called CAS (Core Application Software) Centre, located at Shastri Park, New Delhi, for background checks, the people familiar with the development said. The National Informatics Centre (NIC) has been asked to develop a portal for this.
As part of the project, companies will have access to database of National Data Centre (NDC), National Database on Sexual Offenders (NDSO) and Interoperable Criminal Justice System (ICJS) for which they will have to pay a prescribed fee. The fee amount has not been decided yet, the people cited above said.
The portal, once developed by NIC, will enable a user (only companies ) to register and request antecedent verification in bulk and pay online. “The system will match the given details of persons such as name, age/age range, state, district and police station of his current and permanent address, with existing criminal records under CCTNS. If a person’s name is found in the data, the user will be able to check the details, down to the level of the FIR, in the case of police cases. However, if the person’s name is not there in the database, it will show ‘no criminal record found’, ’’ said one of the people cited above.
CCTNS (Crime & Criminals Tracking Network Systems) is a comprehensive and integrated system connecting all the police stations and investigation agencies across the country. It has a database that updates in real-time details of cases, criminals, courts, finger print bureaus, forensic labs etc. The database also has information on arrests, convictions, charge-sheets, lists of proclaimed and habitual offenders, missing persons, unidentified dead bodies (UIDB), registered vehicles. It even has photographs and, where applicable, screenshots.
As of now, 97 % (15,620) out of 16,098 police stations across the country have already been connected to CCTNS. The database has about 280 million records till December 2020 and is being updated every minute.
Ish Kumar, former director of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), said: “The current process of antecedent verification is cumbersome as the request is sent to police, which takes time. The CCTNS data centre has national level data which can be checked within seconds. This can help companies verify if their employee has any criminal record anywhere in the country and simultaneously generate some money for the government. Similarly, at a later stage, this data can be used for passport verification, verification of private security guards/agencies across the country.”
On possible discrimination by companies against employees who have been acquitted or are yet to be held guilty. Ish Kumar added: “The government can only provide information. Whether the case (against the employee) amounts to disqualification depends on the policy of the company”.
MHA officials declined to comment on the matter.
Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia policy director at Access Now and board chairperson, Internet Freedom Foundation, said: “There is a pattern of government collecting data and making it available for the industry. Aarogya Setu app is one such example. CCTNS itself has lot of sensitive data which is problematic and there is no oversight. Giving a third-party access to it not only infringes the right to privacy but it can lead to misuse of data, especially when the data protection bill has not been passed by Parliament”.
Amber Sinha, research director at Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), said, “Such sensitive data, which already suffers from social inequality and discrimination, coming into the hands of companies can lead to further discrimination”.