As part of the Police Technology Mission — a key project of the Modi-led NDA government — India is ready to expand its National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) to offer real-time 360-degree profiling of individuals and entities to authorised central and state agencies for intelligence gathering and law enforcement purposes.
The system will collate information from a range of sources including airports, railways, banks, passports, and telecommunications providers, as well as open-source intelligence (OSINT) and corporate data. The centralised database being developed by NATGRID will also capture all digital footprints that a person or company leaves in financial and government dealings, with an inbuilt feature to flag suspicious transactions.
The data harnessing effort will take place in two phases, with NATGRID integrating telecom companies, the Election Commission of India and airlines onto its digital database in the first phase and data analytics, OSINT tools and web-based applications being integrated into the platform in the second phase.
Once the two phases are complete, the NATGRID will be able to offer complete and comprehensive real-time data about an entity or an issue to 39 Central and State agencies.
The government intends to hyphenate OSINT tools and web-based applications to gain a larger picture of an entity or an issue. The OSINT tool can extract information, relationships, and other linked written, audio and video information for summarising into a report.
Despite the potential benefits to the Indian State, the centralised database access solution is facing challenges like a lack of standardisation of data structure, which requires time-consuming re-indexing of voluminous online information.
There is also a potential risk of hacking although the government claims that the data infrastructure has adequate safeguards to avoid breach, with the end-to-end encrypted portal being accessible only after proper authorisation and authentication.
NATGRID is one of the three major surveillance arms of the Indian government, the others being the Centralised Monitoring System (CMS) and Network Traffic Analysis (NETRA). As the government is expanding the NATGIRD surveillance, the lack of a National Cybersecurity Policy and a proper debate on the subject by all the stakeholders involved is a concern.