Sunday, September 26, 2010


26 Sept 2010



From Our Delhi Bureau

NEW DELHI: The government is trying to snoop on the savings bank and other accounts you open with banks in the name of anti-terror measures, but Pranab Mukherjee has opposed the move in his capacity as the Finance Ministry.

Intrusion into privacy of the bank depositors is just not acceptable as it will discredit the banking system and the people will start using other modes for securing their funds and carry on transactions, Mukherjee has warned in a handwritten note.

He conveyed his reservations to National Intelligence Grid (NatGrid) CEO Raghu Raman who wanted instructions to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to allow his organisation an access to the individuals' savings accounts through the district magistrates to facilitate the terror money trail.

Raghu Raman has now taken the matter to Home Minister P Chidambaram whose baby the NatGrid is, conceived to work under the National Counter Terrorism Centre to create a multi-level database on individuals that can be available real time to the intelligence, security and enforcement agencies.

Sources said Mukherjee was not impressed from Raman's submission that the database will not be leaked to maintain secrecy and privacy of the bank account holders, allowing only 11 specified agencies to have the access for the sole purpose of tracking the money flow into terrorism and other very serious crimes impinging upon the national security.

The database that NatGrid intends to collect and collate will cover not only bank account withdrawals and deposits but also other records like land records, income tax returns and insurance cover. 

Raman, a defence expert from private sector who took over at NatGrid as its CEO about a year ago, is busy sorting out nittygritty of the operations the new organisation is supposed to start from next May as the task assigned is gigantic, requiring networking of 21 types of databases to ensure quick, seamless and secure access of desired information by the intelligence and enforcement agencies. Chidambaram has already set the deadline of 24 months for all databases ready and networked, preferring if that can be achieved faster in 18 months.

Though Raman has not been able to convince Pranab Mukherjee to drop his concern about the privacy of the bank account holders, he has succeeded in persuading the RBI to convene a meeting of chiefs of the commercial banks in Mumbai on Friday (October 1) to discuss how they can share information on at least heavy deposits and withdrawals of money from their banks with the designated senior government officials. 

Raman will try to convince the bank executives that the information so gathered will not be locally dessiminated and hence there is no possibility of leakage that may amount to the breach of privacy clause by which banks are bound with their customers. 

Though his proposal is to collect information through the district magistrates, he may finetune it to suggest direct link between NatGrid and the banks as all banks are computerised and as such high value transactions by individuals can be automatically identified in the computer system and forwarded to NatGrid as that will eliminate physical collection of data, susceptible to get leaked.

A letter sent out by the RBI at the instance of Raman to the bank chiefs says the meeting is called to discuss NatGrid — for putting in place an automated system for sending queries by law enforcement agencies to banks and providing information by banks to such agencies. The Friday meeting will discuss the mechanism the banks will use to share data on individuals with NatGrid.


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