NATGRID or National Intelligence Grid is the integrated intelligence grid that is basically a compilation of data from twenty-one sets of data. Sources such as banks, visa, train, income tax, immigration, passport, telecommunication, different intelligence agencies, etc. to create a centralized, secured intelligence sharing platform.
The data pool can be accessed by eleven central agencies like Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Directorate General of GST Intelligence, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) among others. The data network was planned to gather information and provide it to agencies seeking data in order to counter terrorism and terrorist attacks. NATGRID was proposed after the dreadful attack-26/11 on Mumbai by terrorists that caused around 170 deaths. The attack was not the first to occur in India but was enlisted as one of the audacious ones like the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai, 2001 attack on the Parliament, etc. by terrorists. Due to lack of proper inter-linked information from different agencies, NATGRID was aimed to become an essential tool that would enable security agencies to locate and obtain vital information on terror suspects, terror attacks and from pooled data from various organisations which would subsequently help in identifying and capturing terrorists and would help to stop terrorist attacks.
Importance of NATGRID in Countering Insurgency
Terrorism has wreaked havoc in India for decades. The 1993 series bombing in Mumbai, 2001 attack on Parliament, 26/11 attack on Mumbai, numerous cross border infiltrations and subsequent attacks in Jammu and Kashmir on public and security personnel and many more such incidents indicate a slack in intelligence gathering system. In today’s digitized world, power of data and its potential to provide real time tip-offs and intelligence data to counter terrorist threats cannot be neglected.
NATGRID will always play a vital role in inter-linking and gathering trends and information that would avert terrorist strikes. The 26/11 Mumbai attacks by terrorist groups backed by resources of a state, viz. Pakistan called for an integrated intelligence network. In its aftermath, in 2011, India’s Cabinet Committee on Security approved the formation of NATGRID. Intelligence gathering by use of technology is the primary step to deal with terrorist attacks. NATGRID promises to provide the base to counter such attacks by increasing efficiency of processes, less-reliance on brute-force like third degree to collect data as evidence in the court of law for a healthy prosecution. Terrorist activities show a pattern of behavior exhibited by terrorists in terms of less socialization, expression of extreme view in public platforms etc. The inter-linked information network from various agencies (NATGRID) will help in tracking such distinct behavioral pattern. Recently it has been seen that the use of new technology, new concepts and concept of remote-controlled terror i.e. violence planned and executed by a controller from long distances has made countering terrorist attacks a difficult job. NATGRID will improve flow of information and will give security forces an upper- hand to prevent terror attacks. The expected insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir after abrogation of Article 370, increasing insurgency in North Eastern states hampering regular law and order system can also be efficiently dealt by use of NATGRID.
Concerns over NATGRID
NATGRID has certain grey areas which question the result it can achieve. The digitized era leak- Edward Snowden leak is an indication of misuse of surveillance capabilities which encroach upon individual privacy and violate even national sovereignty. NATGRID is a honeypot of information and pool of such sensitive information available at a single source increase chances of misuse dramatically.
India’s surveillance agencies are not accountable to Parliament further lack of regulating law in their functioning decreases accountability by eliminating chances of scrutiny. This poses a threat of violation of fundamental right to privacy. NATGRID has 21 sources at present and such databases have a tendency to expand over time. This may result in states getting access to the data and hence probability of misuse increases further. It has been argued that NATGRID like some other government initiatives like UIDAI is being established through government notification and not by means of a Parliamentary legislation. This process is considered to be against the deliberative parliamentary process and public debate which forms the base of parliamentary system of government in India.
Lastly there exists a threat of surveillance excesses by the states as has occurred in the past and a threat of misuse of private information for personal gain cannot be neglected in absence of any proper, efficient and well regulated body or law to establish needed checks and balance over NATGRID.
NATGRID is a crucial part of surveillance system modification that Indian government sought to set up after 26/11 attack to regulate efficient action by security forces and foil terror attacks. NATGRID needs to be setup by following a well planned parliamentary legislative process and giving due weightage to public opinion as it will have direct impact on privacy rights of individuals. NATGRID will prove to be a game-changer in tackling terror attacks and increasing insurgency in India as it will help to improve coordination among agencies and track activities of terrorists or suspected individuals by allowing free flow of information and intelligence data. In the current era of increasing radicalization and remote-controlled terror approaches, NATGRID will be beneficial for India but with long-term, efficient planning and modifications so as not to encroach upon privacy rights of individuals and with proper checks and balances to avoid any misuse of information.