Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016

  • Bill aims to regularize critical information on Maps services that affect “the security, sovereignty and integrity” of the country
  • It will be mandatory to take permission from a government authority before acquiring, disseminating, publishing or distributing any geospatial information of India
  • Bill will ensure that online platforms like Google will have to apply for a licence to run Google Maps or Google Earth in India
  • Also, no person shall depict, disseminate, publish or distribute any wrong or false topographic information of India including international boundaries through internet platforms or online services or in any electronic or physical form
  • Wrong depiction of the map of India could land the violators in jail with a maximum term of seven years and fine up to Rs. 100 crore
What are positives of this Bill?
  • There can be no debate that the country’s territorial integrity needs to be maintained, physically and in the digital world, and therefore, a stringent law against violators seems imperative.
  • Geospatial information easily available from services like Google Earth, Google Maps etc, has been reportedly used by terror groups against India for ex. Mumbai terror attack
  • Wrong depiction of the map of India could land the violators in jail with a maximum term of seven years and fine upto Rs 100 crore. This measure has been envisaged by the government against the backdrop of instances where certain social networking sites showed Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as part of Pakistan and China respectively
  • The proposed law applies not just to primary data providers such as Google and Apple, but to down-the-line service providers like Cab aggregators such as Uber and Ola, restaurant aggregators and last-mile delivery services like Swiggy, or even real estate information service providers like MagicBricks, 99 Acres, etc, all of whom draw upon geospatial data and images to offer efficient services to their end user.This law will make them accountable.
  • The government is proposing to set up a regulatory body that will comprise of digitally aware senior bureaucrats along with subject matter experts who will oversee the digital space for violations. Hopefully, this body will successfully fulfill its responsibility while ensuring a level-playing ground for all.
Why this is a not so good move?
  • The proposed bill brings back licence raj. For each map of India or its regions created by any company will have to be vetted by a committee. There will a fee that will have to be paid and the licence will have to be sought.
  • The proposed bill makes “every person” associated with the business offering map service an accessory to a crime in case of any violation, intended or unintended.
  • The proposed bill effectively ends crowd-sourcing. This means when you see your area in Google Maps and want to fix a mistake, you won’t be able to do that. The proposed bill also affects the real-time gathering of geo data. This too will make the map services almost useless.
  • Companies such as Google, Microsoft and Apple, which have millions of Indians using their maps, would be hit directly by the legislation if it is pushed through. Firms that depend on these maps to provide their services, such as Uber, Zomato and Ola, too would be affected.
  • The security vetting authority removes sensitive zones from the data and takes about two-three months or even more to respond, which is an unrealistic timeline for people working with digital data. There is also apprehension that the Bill will undermine rescue and humanitarian efforts, such as during disasters like the Nepal earthquake.
  • Also of concern is the lack of court’s jurisdiction in matters related to the proposed legislation.
  • It’s not just app developers that will require a license. As per the current draft, every end user of these apps who does things like shares their location with a friend, posts a status update, or uploads a photo with meta-data, is effectively creating mapping information and will have to get one too.
  • It’s also likely to do little to stop terrorist attacks. Since the rules in the bill only apply within India and to Indians outside the country, it won’t restrict foreign military forces and terrorists beyond India’s borders from sourcing map data from elsewhere.
  • What is worrisome is that it provides for stringent punishment ranging from a fine of up to 100 crore rupees to a 7-year jail term, for as much as publishing a wrong map of India. Since the print, electronic and digital media use a lot of easily available data, the new regulations could spell doom for the industry as it would push up the costs of acquiring such basic information and also make media liable for heavy fines and imprisonment in case of even an oversight.
  • The new law also conflicts with the provisions of the Information Technology (IT) Act 2000, because both it and the earlier IT Act deal with not just physical but also digital data. Furthermore, the IT Act is a special law and states that in case of conflict between it and any other law, then it will prevail. However, the draft geospatial bill has also been given special status under Section 33, stating that its provisions will have effect over inconsistencies in other laws. In other words, the interplay between the new law and the IT Act has not been properly worked out.
  • The success of ‘Digital India’ lies in more service operators coming out with wider range of services and greater number of users accessing these services. If the proposed Bill acts as a deterrent to the spread of similar services, then it will end up as a case of the government meaning well but ending up shooting itself in the foot.
  • We don’t have the manpower(experts) to man regulator body.
  • Huge computational capacity would be require to analyse all the data.
What can be done?
  • An alternative modality that can serve national security purposes would involve switching to a simple registration-based system that doesn’t make the acquisition of a licence a precondition to using data. However, such a registration-based system is also fraught with danger in a framework that insists on scrutinising the credentials of every end user.
  • A clear distinction must be made between the producers and consumers of geospatial data. In order to not constrict the innovation ecosystem, the definition of consumers must be as wide as possible.
  • It may be okay to require all publishers of geospatial data to register with the security-vetting authority and provide an online window through which the authority can conduct an audit of their data. The vetting authority can go through the data and raise an objection if it finds anything objectionable, and it can do this in its own time. In the meantime the data can be used by end users and updated by the publisher as required.



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