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NIA is working on a national database for internal security

Is this database different from NATGRID?

Courtesy: Rajya Sabha

The National Investigation Agency has been tasked with creating a national database for cases related to narcotic substances, hawala, arms smuggling, fake currency, bomb blasts, terror funding, and terrorism, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said at an event commemorating 13 years of the NIA. He added that the agency has commenced its work on such a database.

Shah said that a database is required to bring about a change wherein investigations are not dependent on the third degree but “ the degree of data, technology, and information” available with the agencies.

“The situation in this field is not very satisfactory right now. The IB, NIA and NATGRID are working towards this goal together,” Shah revealed.

He stressed that there is a need to share the database with other agencies which deal with the aforementioned issues. “It will also be helpful if we add the data collected by state agencies to it.” “If this data is maintained and analysed properly then it will be helpful to everyone including the investigation and the courts. Any data, if it is maintained in silos, is of no use,” Shah said in his address.

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The database highlights how state surveillance is increasing in the country. The project raises concerns about privacy violations in the absence of checks and balances given that the new database will be a part of the intelligence infrastructure which is likely to exempt it from public scrutiny.

Is this NATGRID?

It is not clear from Amit Shah’s address if this database is the revival of NATGRID that Shah had floated at a meeting held in November 2019. However, one can extrapolate (given the Home Minister’s address) that this database will focus solely on internal security and NATGRID will contribute to its development.

What is NATGRID? NATGRID is the national intelligence grid, to link multiple public and private databases together, and make this data available to intelligence agencies:

  • Its mandate: “to automate the existing manual processes for collation of intelligence information by connecting over 21 data sources like telecommunication, Banking, Airlines etc,” according to an answer in Parliament in December 2016 by Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, it was created with “an intention to link databases for collecting actionable intelligence to combat terrorism and internal security threats.” Essentially, with linkages already in place, NATGRID should be able to pull data about an individual from multiple public and private databases onto a dashboard.
  • Functionally: to “access, collate, analyse, correlate, predict and provide speedy dissemination” of information.
  • Setup: NATGRID was set up with approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), as an attached office of the Ministry of Home Affairs on December 1, 2009. CCS approved the Detailed Project Report on June 6, 2011. Planning Commission has also accorded its “in principle” approval to the project on July 8, 2011, as ‘Central Plan Scheme’ under MHA from 2011 to 2012.

Which 21 databases? The ones we know about have been mentioned in multiple responses in Parliament:

  • Telecommunications
  • Banking
  • Airlines
  • SEBI
  • Railways

Who will have access to this data? On March 4, 2015, the Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chauthary identified the 10 user agencies (which can use NATGRID) in response to a question in Parliament, saying that “as per Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) mandate, the User Agencies” of NATGRID are:

  • Intelligence Bureau (IB)
  • Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW)
  • Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)
  • Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI)
  • Enforcement Directorate (ED)
  • Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU)
  • Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT)
  • Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC)
  • Directorate General of Central Excise and Intelligence (DGCEI)
  • Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB)

No Indian state authority was listed as a user agency for NATGRID.

Is NATGRID under RTI? “The NATGRID comes under the purview of ‘Intelligence and Security Organizations’ and is exempted from the RTI Act, 2005 vide Gazette of India dated 9th June, 2011, G.S.R. 442(E) issued by the DOP&T.” However, before it was exempted from RTI, Talish Ray got some responses for SFLC.in.

Is NATGRID live?

It was reported in September last year that NATGRID was to be launched soon. The report did not elaborate on any timelines. A parliamentary response in 2019 revealed that the deadline was December 31, 2020 which the government failed to meet.

NATGRID has been delayed for so long that on at least 2 occasions, MPs were forced to ask in the Parliament whether it has been shelved or is defunct.

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What caused the delay? We know very little about what caused these delays. What we know is that the infrastructure in Delhi was delayed due to land ownership dispute between Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) for around one year, according to a response by Hansraj Gangaram Ahir in Parliament on November 23, 2016. More than 95% of Civil construction of the Disaster Recovery Centre at Bengaluru was completed by then. The physical infrastructure at New Delhi was expected to be completed by July 21, 2018, and Bengaluru by October 31, 2017.

As of today, there is no update on whether NATGRID has been rolled out as the government remains tight-lipped about it.

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I cover several beats such as Crypto, Telecom, and OTT at MediaNama. I can be found loitering at my local theatre when I am off work consuming movies by the dozen.

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