Looking but not seeing
India remains slow in using technology that will enhance preparedness against security threats and facilitate post-event probes, writes Jayadeva Ranade.india Updated: Apr 25, 2013 22:00 IST
The right to protection and security of life and property is the primary original social contract entered into between the citizen and the State. In return for this guarantee, the citizen pays taxes to the State. Regrettably in India today there is a growing feeling that the State is unable, or unwilling, to discharge this primary responsibility. The daily diet of rape, murder and violence served up by the media adds to the average citizen’s sense of insecurity. The instruments of State that should be deployed for protecting citizens are used mainly to protect a small group of people of doubtful importance. The feeling is not alleviated by the poor image of the police — unchanged despite over half a century of independence — as an instrument of oppression or extortion. The sad truth is that today an average citizen across India, wherever possible, avoids contact with the police.
Meanwhile, the nature of society in India is changing as is the demographic profile. A larger number of people are educated and conscious of their rights. The cash-rich middle class in the country, variously estimated at between 300-400 million, is more aware and demands tangible returns in governance, together with accountability from their elected representatives and the government. The youth, who are a sizeable percentage of the population, are restive and unwilling to be pushed around. India’s credibility as a safe investment destination, in the international perception, is concurrently being undermined and this has the potential to adversely impact foreign investments and job creation. Society can, in other words, no longer be taken for granted. After the terrorist attack on Parliament in 2001 and again after the attacks in Mumbai, a perception also gained ground abroad that India was not confident, or incapable, of effective response. India can ill-afford this.
A major and first step in building the government’s credibility should be to create public confidence in the police. As the most visible arm of authority that the majority of people and visitors interact with, their dealings with its representatives leave them with a lasting impression of the country and its people. They expect it to be reassuring, helpful, fair and effective.
The country’s security environment has become more fragile because of the violent acts of terrorism sponsored brazenly from across the border. The unprecedented violence unleashed by Pakistani terrorists in Mumbai in 2008, for example, is unlikely to be erased from public memory any time soon. On the contrary, such repeated acts of terrorism generate a sense of frustration among the people. Terrorism is also beginning to sprout roots within India in some fundamentalist organisations. Lawlessness and violence have spread and these necessitate speedy improvement of the security environment. While some aspects like upgrading the quality, calibre and service conditions of policemen, sensitising the police force to the needs of the public, streamlining laws and regulations, etc, will take time, there is a lot that can be done rapidly and will yield immediate results.
There is an urgent need for modern technology and databases to be used by security services extensively, effectively and in real-time if India is to keep its citizens safe and international reputation intact. The probability of a US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, should inject a sense of immediacy as it can be anticipated that encouragement from Pakistan’s ISI to the jihadi outfits will thereafter increase. This will lead to increased violence not only in Jammu and Kashmir but, if recent events are pointers, then in other parts of the country as well. Security preparedness will need to reinforce intelligence.
The condemnable act of terrorism at the iconic Boston Marathon on April 15, which left at least three dead and hundreds severely injured, is a good example of effective use of technology. While internal inquiries are underway to ascertain whether there were any slip ups in securing the route, that aspect is not being focused upon for the present. Pertinent is that footage from cameras positioned along the highways and the route of the marathon yielded a treasure trove of intelligence. The cameras revealed the sites of the explosions, distance between each site and, significantly, identified two individuals walking between the sites of the explosions wearing black backpacks.
Triangulation of data in the footage helped authorities pinpoint these individuals as suspects. It delimited a likely area where the perpetrators could have stayed. In a few days, the authorities had apprehended the individuals, off-loaded two others from an aircraft at Boston’s Logan airport and raided at least one apartment. All this would not have been possible without the use of technology. Such technology is neither unavailable nor expensive.
In addition to cameras, another technology used by the security authorities was the face recognition feature, database of personal details and photographs. The latter, accessible to police authorities from social security, credit cards etc, immediately provide a photograph and address for the individuals and, if required for subsequent investigations, the biometrics. These details are also available in the case of visitors to the US.
In India too, the requisite data infrastructure is in some cases ready. Other technologies can be easily and quickly obtained. The plethora of identity cards like the NPR, UID and election voter ID, introduced by different government agencies contains select identical information regarding the individual, including in some cases biometric data, and offers a readymade comprehensive data-base.
Despite numerous such proven examples of the use of technology, it is unfortunate that we remain tardy in implementing steps that will considerably enhance security preparedness and facilitate post-event investigations. Jayadeva Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.
The views expressed by the author are personal