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Police pressing Nadra for access to fingerprints data

November 10, 2012

KARACHI, Nov 10: The Sindh police and the National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) have become embroiled in a row, with the former seeking access to the fingerprints data for investigation purposes and the latter refusing to oblige it saying “information may be shared, but not data”, it emerged on Saturday.

For the past more than a year the Sindh police authorities have been in contact with Nadra high-ups seeking access to its comprehensive and integrated fingerprints data, but have failed to receive a convincing response from Islamabad, officials and sources said.

Background interviews with the officials and sources privy to the recent correspondence between the two organisations suggest that in recent communications Nadra had almost made it clear that the Sindh police request could not be entertained under the defined protocol, which did not allow any of the law-enforcement agency and intelligence organisation to get direct access to it.

“The Sindh police actually want the Nadra fingerprints data for its forensic division,” said an official citing correspondence between the two sides. “The request was made early 2011 by the Sindh inspector general under recommendations from the forensic division, which had sought direct access to Nadra data, finding handicaps while determining the identity of criminals and victims of terrorist activities.”

However, he said, Nadra in response did not entertain the request, but defined its upcoming and several other projects that could meet the police requirements. After a number of reminders, the official said the Sindh police authorities were almost convinced that it would get the desired access.“But it’s really unfortunate,” he said while pleading the Sindh police case. “The police are the key law-enforcement agency, which apart from operation efforts are also responsible for investigations of cases ranging from domestic violence to high-profile terrorist attacks. In that case, they should be considered eligible to access that key information.”

The Nadra high-ups, however, have different views. Recognising the police request, they refer to several systems designed solely for law enforcement and policing, but at the same time do not consider the argument as ‘logical’.

“Nadra is maintaining a civil registry of citizens of Pakistan,” said a source privy to the authority’s views on the subject. “The prime purpose is to issue and protect the identity of citizens. For effective identity management, Nadra has established an automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS), a face recognition system (FRS) and demographic database, which include names, parentage, addresses and family linkages.”

However, he said, all these databases were of civilian nature, solely meant for identity management. Those records were different from pure criminal databases, which were meant to house criminals’ records and were used for crime resolving purposes.

“For example, the Nadra civilian AFIS uses flat fingerprint whereas the criminal AFIS uses roll fingerprints. Nadra captures frontal photo but criminal face recognition systems use right and left poses with the frontal photo,” he said. “For law-enforcement purposes, a standard operating procedure is already in place under which all requests by LEAs were made to the national crisis management cell of the interior ministry, acting as the focal point for intelligence sharing and information gathering.”

A source confirmed that this year Nadra had received 25 cases from the Sindh police through the national crisis management cell for fingerprint matching and all requests were accepted. In five cases, Nadra helped establish the true identity of the criminals, he added.

“The meat of the point is that Nadra shares information and not data with the law-enforcement agencies. This way the privacy of citizens also remains protected against abuse,” added the source.