Here’s a scenario if the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016, becomes an Act: I have to ask my friend to pick me up from an exact location in the city, and I decide to send my friend my location through WhatsApp (or any other messaging aoo) using Maps. I will have to first seek a license from the Security Vetting Authority (a three-member team for the entire nation). Once I have the approval to “send my location”, my friend will have to get the same authority’s permission to “receive the location”. So you can well imagine how long I’ll be waiting for my friend to come and pick me up.
Also, you can forget about geotagging photos for social media posts or checking-in on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. You can also forget about hailing a cab through Ola or Uber; or sending an SOS alert to one of those safety apps. And food will no longer be delivered through Food Panda or Zomato. And, of course, there will no point of downloading Google Maps on your phone because, well, you’re don’t have the license to use navigation apps.
The Ministry of Home Affairs released the draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 on May 4, 2016. According to the draft, which was up for suggestions and comments till June 2, 2016, this Bill intends to regulate acquisition, dissemination, publication or distribution of geospatial data to protect security, sovereignty and integrity of India. The draft defines geospatial data as “geospatial imagery or data acquired through space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles including value addition; or graphical or digital data depicting natural or man-made physical features, phenomenon or boundaries of the earth or any information related thereto including surveys, charts, maps, terrestrial photos referenced to a co-ordinate system and having attributes”. This definition is so wide, that it includes anything and everything.
DEF is a not-for-profit organisation, working with a mission of empowering people digitally – especially for marginalised communities living in socio-economic backwardness and information poverty. Thus, we believe that we own the responsibility to discuss the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 (draft) in the public domain and highlight how the passing of an Act like this can affect day-to-day communication and services for the common man, thereby going against the basic principle of the Digital India plan.
In an effort to bring more awareness about the implications of the Bill and to take the voices of the people to the authorities concerned, DEF launched an online campaign — Save Your Right to Use the Map: Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 — through the digital platform of Change.org. This campaign, which was launched a week ago has received a more than 297 digital signature against the Bill.
The views of DEF Founder-Director Osama Manzar were also published in a column in the Mint newspaper on May 25, 2016.
The definition of this Bill is so wide, that it not only affects big business houses but also a common man. Restrictions on using geospatial data means people cannot share their location with their loved ones via Internet messaging apps, people cannot use Global Positioning System (GPS) to navigate through traffic, people cannot check-in on Facebook, geo-tag photos, hail a cab through an app or even order food online. Additionally, geospatial data is not limited to digital forms but expands to hard copies of maps, atlases. Particulars of coordinates also count.
The bill does not only apply to Indian citizens living in India and outside, it also applies to foreigners in India. In addition, geospatial information acquired in the past, before the bill has been enforced, also requires an individual to hold a licence to legally use the said information. At this point, one wonders what happens if they use this geospatial information without a license, i.e. illegally or happen to acquire, view, draw the Indian map depicting any perceived wrong territorial boundaries either in hard copy or digitally. The answer is, they either get fined Rs 1 crore to 100 crores (1 Billion) or jailed for seven years.
What the drafters do not realise is that the draft is in absolute contradiction with the Government of India’s (GoI) wonderful promises of development, that include initiatives such as Digital India Plan or Start Up India plan and the Open Government Data online platform. They also do not seem to understand how the internet or geospatial information function in real time as well as the ever expanding usage of the two. The long-term implications on the work of academics, scientific or social researches, civil society, IT tool developers, humanitarian or relief workers to name a few, have not been considered. The passage of this bill will give the GoI powers to infringe on our privacy, perform surveillance and monitoring of our personal data to make sure compliance with the regulations. Moreover, the security agencies will have the powers to confiscate any data considered illegal, according to the bill. Ordinary, innocent citizens will have to bear unnecessary restrictions without having any intention to harm the security, sovereignty and integrity of the country. We will not be able use the Right to Information Act, to seek information either, because that would also require us to possess certain geospatial data, either physically or electronically.
In reality, this bill will push the map based, geolocation service applications and businesses like Ola Cabs, Uber etc. to end their operations because getting each and every geospatial record licensed and vetted is impossible.
Arguing these issues was our petition Save Your Right to Use the Map: Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016, which received a good response and a lot of comments from the signatories. These petition, along with the comments, were sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs on June 2, 2016.
With this petition, we urge you to help us raise support to demand that the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 be dropped and draft the bill in line with progammes like Digital India and Startup India, which would encourage Indian citizens and startups to use geospatial data in everyday lives and create businesses that serve India.