The National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) is expected to be launched soon, according to a PTI report on September 12. Citing sources, the report said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to launch NATGRID and the final “synchronisation and testing” of the Rs 3,400 crore surveillance database was underway.
Intended to tackle terrorism and other national security issues, NATGRID collates data from multiple financial, travel, telecommunications, and other databases under multiple central government agencies. Since it is exempt from public scrutiny for being a part of defence and intelligence infrastructure, the database raises concerns about privacy violations in the absence of nearly any accountability measures on such surveillance.
What is the NATGRID?
What will be collated:
- The NATGRID will collate information from 21 providing organisations like the Income Tax department, National Crime Records Bureau, Civil Aviation Ministry, and more, according to the government’s first phase plan.
- The types of information will include banking and financial transactions, databases of FIRs and stolen vehicles, air and rail travel records, immigration, property records, driving license, and telecommunications data. In 2019, it was reported that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was also planning to link data related to social media users to the database.
Who will have access:
The MHA’s plan says that 10 agencies will be granted access to NATGRID at first, but this will be expanded to over 1000 organisations, in a staggered manner, over the years.
The 10 agencies to be given access include:
- Central Bureau of Investigation
- Directorate of Revenue Intelligence
- Enforcement Directorate
- Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs
- Central Board of Direct Taxes (for the Income Tax Department)
- Cabinet Secretariat, the Intelligence Bureau
- Directorate General of GST Intelligence
- Narcotics Control Bureau
- Financial Intelligence Unit
- National Investigation Agency
Origins of the NATGRID
The database was first given authorisation by then Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in 2010 after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.
However, according to reports, the project gathered steam after a change in leadership took place in 2016 when IB officer Ashok Patnaik became NATGRID’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
On September 4, during an event of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD), Home Minister Amit Shah reportedly said that, “Had corona [COVID-19] not been there, the Prime Minister would have dedicated NATGRID to the country. I am hopeful that the Prime Minister will dedicate NATGRID to the country in some time.” According to a response in Parliament, the database was earlier scheduled to go live by December 2020.
State-sanctioned surveillance in India
In 2014, another surveillance program of the government, NETRA which detects suspicious words like ‘attack’, ‘bomb’, ‘blast’ or ‘kill’ in real time on social media was launched.
In 2016, the government launched the Central Monitoring System (CMS) which would “automate the process of lawful interception and monitoring of mobile phones, landlines and the internet in the country” in New Delhi and Mumbai.
In 2020, the Indian Express reported that local units of the Department of Telecommunications had been seeking call data records (CDRs) of all mobile subscribers across several parts of the country.
In July, news broke that the Indian government may have deployed Israeli spyware Pegasus against various Indian politicians, activists, journalists, businessmen,etc.
- India’s Home Minister Amit Shah wants to revive NATGRID; Here’s what you need to know about NATGRID
- A decade-old Bill had proposed to regulate surveillance; this is what it said
- Pegasus: How do we rein in State surveillance? Here’s what experts said
- Delhi HC issues notice in plea challenging govt’s mass surveillance systems NATGRID, Netra, CMS
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