All those who feared a recreation of the totalitarian regime George Orwell wrote about in 1984 should, on the face of it, be weary of the government’s decision to move ahead with the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid).
Broadly, the proposal envisages that Natgrid will evolve a lexicon of information maintained by various government agencies. This can be accessed by 11 intelligence agencies. Any agency seeking information will approach Natgrid, which will direct it to the right source.
This is a very clever idea that seeks to optimize access to available information and will, hopefully, make it easier for the good guys to catch the bad guys. Now, if only it were as simple as that, any Orwellian fears would be highly misplaced.
The real issue (and fear) here isn’t the data collection and its misuse. Almost all the data that will be available is already being collected by the concerned agencies. Natgrid will work towards ensuring speedier access to this data and also assist in being able to point investigative agencies to multiple sources of data. So the common problem of the right hand not knowing what the left does will cease to be a problem—or that’s the intent.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The real issue is a perception problem about the government’s intent.The fear of misuse is exaggerated by a fundamental trust deficit between the government and the public. The deficit widens where the government’s investigative agencies are involved—especially the manner in which the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate have become the means to harass political rivals.
This has only become worse over the years. Successive governments are entirely to blame and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has done precious little to bridge this trust deficit; in fact, recent actions of the UPA have only reinforced these apprehensions.
The way out for the government in the short term is to expedite action on the proposed privacy law. Once in place, it will be a perfect legal deterrent to possible misuse. It is important to keep in mind that even this law would, like others, only seek to mitigate misuse; it cannot eliminate it. Nonetheless, its existence should help overcome the trust deficit. In fact, the very same law can be use to quell similar fears regarding Aadhaar, the ambitious programme to give every resident of India a unique identity.
The government has to move quickly. Failure to respond swiftly to address the trust deficit could derail two very good ideas for contemporary India.Will Natgrid make Big Brother bigger? Tell us at email@example.com