Security And Technology
On June 22, Uday India, with the support of the IBM, held at India International Centre (New Delhi) a symposium titled “Government’s Security Initiatives and the Role of Technology”. Because, we wanted to highlight the fact that “Security” matters in our nation’s life. Whether national, provincial, municipal or personal, the government has an important role to play in protecting its people and assets. As we all know, India is attracting global attention not only because we are the world’s largest functioning democracy but also because we have great economic and developmental potentials. But then, development and security are the two sides of the same coin. Unless our lives, properties and institutions are secure, there cannot be any development. It is in this sense that I say that “security” matters.
Now, if “security” matters, what is the state of security in our country? Here, by security I mean internal security, which was the focus at the symposium. We face many challenges, ranging from serious crimes and criminals, often operating through transnational networks, to periodic terrorist attacks, to insurgencies, to growing Maoist violence, to cyber crimes, to, money laundering, to narco-terrorism to human trafficking.
Given these challenges, there is no doubt that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has been undertaking a number of security initiatives. But the obvious question is, how effective have they been? At the risk of being over-simplistic, I must say that in any security system, what matter most are the manpower and the equipment or weapons, which in today’s world are being increasingly technology-driven. The traditional means of providing security by appointing people as police officers or guards will simply not work without appropriate technologies, whether it be access control to sensitive areas, patrolling city streets, crime prevention or even criminal apprehension. It is with quality man power and quality or the state of the art technology that we can strengthen our internal security, which, in short, involves issues of prevention, protection and response.
Prevention is dependent the most on the efficacy of intelligence gathering. What are the challenges for intelligence gathering in India? Is it a problem of capacity, systemic oversight or something else? We need to seek answers to these questions. Besides, there is also the question of technical challenges: collecting technical intelligence, amalgamating and analysing very high volumes of complex information, finding threats early and precisely, sensing change and activity from great distances, identifying truth and determining what is false, characterising conditions, detecting threats in technical realms including cyberspace, finding the right people among the masses, acting in secret to gain advantage, and countering or dealing with the consequences of complicated events. In short, the basic need here is to assess the problems, select the appropriate technologies, and apply them appropriately to meet our needs. It is needless to say that this is a challenging task.
Then we have to protect our crucial infrastructures such as financial institutions, scientific and educational establishments, industries, water supply, electrical power grids, borders, transportation hubs, and major cities. This necessitates the establishment of an enhanced security system that will both deter terrorists from striking and repel a potential attack. Here, we must realise that technology is value neutral. It can be used by our security agencies and it can be equally lethally used by the criminals and terrorists. In other words, technology can be both helpful and dangerous in its own right. It can be dangerous in another sense too. Applied technologies often invade our lives and our society in ways that take away as much rights as they might protect. This and other concerns such as cost-benefit, practical utility, and cause and effect context, must be solved along the way towards finding the positive and constructive promise that technology embodies. In fact, this aspect of the technology is a subject of growing debate all over the world.
And finally, there is the capacity to respond to a given situation whether it be natural calamities or a conventional terrorist attack or a biological or chemical attack or a cyber attack. For this, we not only need the deployment of rapid-response teams but also credible organising and coordinating abilities. Are we prepared to cope with an earthquake in Delhi, a city which still has not yet developed a system to clear the excess water from the roads on a rainy day, throwing the city’s entire traffic system out of gear? And imagine, Delhi happens to be one of the most vulnerable cities of India as far the earthquake is concerned. In fact, I shudder to think of it. I hope our “National Disaster Management Authority” will prove me wrong by forestalling such potential disasters of the future.
All this brings the point that there is an absolute need of achieving the true and positive potential of science and technology to greatly enhance many of our capabilities and to solve some of the problems we face. Many technologies are available, some are in various stages of development, and a few, perhaps an important few, are imagined but not yet in being. We need a national effort to bring new technologies to the fight and to apply the best we can get to help in solving some of our pressing internal security challenges. This can be done with the direct and deliberate participation of the best and brightest scientists and technologists we can muster in some organised way.
It is in this sense that there is a greater need than ever before for improving the dialogue and coordination among our policy makers, scientists and technologists. Such a combination of talent and motivation might produce many salutary benefits for our nation. India needs what are called cutting edge homeland security products, solutions, and services for surveillance, intelligence infrastructure, and defensive security equipment (defensive because unlike the military wing, our police and paramilitary forces are not supposed to attack but defend). And it is in this sense that I must express the gratitude of my magazine to the technology-giant IBM for supporting our event.
The symposium, thanks to our keynote speaker, GK Pillai, the former Home Secretary and one of our outstanding civil servants (in fact, until recently, he was the one who was the highest ranking official managing the country’s internal security), and exceptional panelists drawn from the services, academia and industry, highlighted many challenges and programmes to the country’s internal security—how to support the current security programmes, to plan for augmenting the capabilities, to work towards cost reduction and better utilisation of security solutions, to provide timely and effective advice to the government, and to highlight human and sociological aspects of security.
In the following pages, we are carrying excerpts of the speeches that our keynote speaker and distinguished panelists made. Hope, the readers will find them empowering.
By Prakash Nanda