Here’s Why Modi Govt’s New Policy on Maps Must Be Opposed

On May 4th, 2016 the Ministry of Home Affairs published a bill that controls the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information in and outside India. It has serious implications for individuals and businesses who use maps for service delivery in India. The bill is inviting responses until June 4, 2016.

Send email to  the Ministry of Home Affairs Read the draft bill

Q: WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT THIS BILL? ISN’T THIS BILL ABOUT FORCING FOREIGN MAP PROVIDERS TO SHOW CORRECT INDIAN BOUNDARIES?

While a section in the bill requires all entities to use and display correct boundaries of the country, the bill as a whole tries to regulate a lot more. It talks about licensing all entities who create, collect, analyse and distribute all kinds of GeoSpatial data. It talks about a bureaucratic committee which will license all such entities, and will Vet all such data after collection and before distributing it.

Q:WHY SHOULD I BE CONCERNED? THIS WILL FORCE JUST THE BIG PLAYERS LIKE GOOGLE, AND OSM AND DIGITAL GLOBE TO GET LICENSES RIGHT?

Save the mapIt might seem that it is only large companies such as Google and Bing Maps who collect and distribute such data, but that is incorrect. When you hail an Uber/Ola by marking your location on a map, you are creating geospatial information. When you take a Geotagged image, you are creating geospatial information. When you “share your location” on WhatsApp with your friend, you’re creating and disseminating geospatial information. When you retweet a map or satellite image, you are distributing Geospatial data. You, even as an end user of these apps and services, fall within the scope of multiple provisions of this Act (s.3, s.4), and hence need a licence under this act.

Q: ISN’T ALLOWING THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE PLAYERS TO HAVE THIS KIND OF DATA A SECURITY RISK? WHAT’S THE BENEFIT OF THE PUBLIC HAVING ACCESS TO THIS KIND OF DATA?

GeoSpatial data is used by citizens and private organizations from diverse fields and all walks of life. It is used by companies in the Transport, Logistics, Insurance, Construction, Utilities and many other walks of life. It is used by ordinary villages to find the best place to build check dams to save water; It is used by regular fishermen to go to the place which has the best fish. It is used in emergency situations like the Chennai floods, The Uttarkhand fires, finding trapped Mountaineers as well as Child and women safety trackers. Citizens have a right to Information, and Geospatial data is just another kind of Information.

Q:ISN’T IT A GOOD IDEA TO REGULATE THESE KINDS OF PLAYERS? THAT WAY TERRORISTS AND FOREIGN PLAYERS WILL NOT KNOW ABOUT OUR SECURITY INSTALLATION.

In no form does this make the country more secure. These rules will be followed by India citizens, Indian Organizations and Indians outside India(s.1). It’s anybody’s guess whether foreign citizens and organization will get licensed under this bill, and follow the Terms & Conditions of this Bill. Other countries have their own satellites, and many of them offer this data for download free of cost. Foreign Militaries and foreign supported terrorists will always be able to source their data from outside the country. All that this bill will achieve is to keep Indian Citizens and companies in the dark, and at a disadvantage when compared to International IT and GIS industry.

Q: HOW WILL THE PASSAGE OF THIS BILL HARM US?

The Central Government talks about Digital India, Startup India, as well as Smart Cities. None of these objectives can be achieved without free and easy access to Geospatial Data. If a farmer cannot access Weather and Soil data for his field, what Digital India are you talking about? If a startup has to get a license and has to get each and every record vetted by a bureaucratic committee, how can it compete on the Global stage? How can you have Smart Cities without IoT sensors providing real time dynamic information of traffic, utilities, transport in our cities? Passage of this bill will bring to a halt, most of modern ITES as well as Location Based Services.

Q: OK I UNDERSTAND THAT THIS BILL IS BAD. HOW DO WE PREVENT THIS FROM BECOMING LAW?

First and foremost you need to send a reply to the Joint Secretary (Internal Security-I), Ministry of Home Affairs via email at [email protected] within 30 days. Secondly, please spread awareness about this bill in your network, and ask all to send a response to this bill, explaining why this is a bad idea, and why it’s a mistake for the MHA to even consider this bill in its current state.