- The Ministry of Home Affairs on May 4, 2016 released a draft of “The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016.
- According to the draft, it will be mandatory to take permission from a government authority before acquiring, disseminating, publishing or distributing any geospatial information of India.
- Even though the Bill is only in the draft stage and has been opened up for suggestions, it is important to understand its salient features:
What does “geospatial information” mean?
- According to the draft it means:
- Geospatial imagery or data acquired through space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles
- Graphical or digital data depicting natural or man-made physical features, phenomenon or boundaries of the earth
- Any information related thereto including surveys, charts, maps, terrestrial photos referenced to a co-ordinate system and having attributes;
What does the Bill say?
- In simple terms, any addition or creation of anything that has to do with any geospatial information – or location – within the territory of India will need the permission of the government or, in this case, a Security Vetting Authority.
What does Security Vetting Authority do?
- It grants licenses to organisations/individuals who want to use geospatial data. It will check the content and data provided and make sure it is well within national policies, “with the sole objective of protecting national security, sovereignty, safety and integrity”
Who will this impact?
- Every person, every business which uses location as a major feature to function. Apart from the usual Google, this includes other apps like Ola, Uber, Zomato, AirBnB and Oyo. It also includes Twitter and Facebook which can track your location.
What happens if I violate this law
- Illegal acquisition of geospatial information of India – Fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 100 crore and/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.
- Illegal dissemination, publication or distribution of geospatial information of India – Whoever disseminates, publishes or distributesany geospatial information of India in contravention of section 4, shall be punished with a fine ranging from Rs. 10 lakhs to Rs. 100 crore and/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.
- Use of geospatial information of India outside India – Fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 100 croreand/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.
The concerns about the proposed law
- The anxiety, post-1947, draws as much from the nature of the country’s territorial disputes as from the security implications of a more laissez-faire map policy. Most of these anxieties are, of course, overblown.
- The possibility of harassment for possession of widely prevalent cartographic imagery at odds with the official boundary (think most foreign magazines)
- The implications for a host of applications, commercial or in the public interest, that need real-time updates. Any company, organisation or individual that disseminates maps contradicting official versions could face up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to Rs.100 crore.
- The proposed legislation envisages appellate authorities and enforcement agencies — a signal that could be dealt with more strictly than they are currently.issues of misrepresentation
- The Survey of India’s two-dimensional, multi-coloured maps, of varying resolutions, have served to give us a static picture of the world around us. But geospatial maps, which the government wants to oversee, reflect how our neighbourhoods are mutating in real time. They allow us to capture the extent and nature of air pollutants around us, plot the unsustainable plundering of our groundwater, gauge the spread of a new flu outbreak to confirm if official estimates of, say, a malaria outbreak are understated, or that simply plot restaurant options in a neighbourhood.
- The provisions suggest that any modification to the maps or value addition also need to be cleared. The time lag the proposed process would impose, as well as the possibility of updates being rejected have worrying, disruptive implications.
- The draft Bill says that the government will vet geospatial information to preserve the “security, sovereignty and integrity” of the country — a broad objective that could be misused by the authorities to prevent any inconvenient information from being tracked, besides creating an avenue for rent-seeking. This is ironic considering that the Centre has a data-sharing policy in place since 2012 that exhorts departments to make their data on health statistics, forests, weather, and so on, more accessible to the public and in machine-readable formats.
That the government says it is open to modifying the draft is reassuring. Much like telecom spectrum, geospatial imagery too is a resource that is only beginning to be valued. It would be better mined — to the profit of the public and the government — with a transparent policy that values information more than fines.