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Save Your Right to Use the Map: Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016

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The Ministry of Home Affairs has released the draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 on 4 May 2016. According to the draft, which is up for suggestions and comments till 2 June 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, to understand how it applies to our ordinary lives, geospatial data can also mean: sharing our location among loved ones over the internet, using GPS to navigate through traffic, checking in on Facebook, hailing a cab through an online app, ordering food online, taking photos during our travels etc. In addition, geospatial data here does not limit to digital forms, hard copies of maps, atlases, particulars of coordinates also count.

Now, what the bill is asking us to do before we share or use any type of geospatial information, e.g. sharing your location over WhatsApp if you’re stuck in an emergency situation, is apply for a license with the Security Vetting Authority (SVA) and get each record of geospatial information vetted by the SVA. The SVA will then take a minimum of three months to may or may not provide you with the required license.

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 (10 Million) 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.

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. Send your comments and suggestions to the Ministry of Home Affairs via email, on this address: before 2 June 2016. The more the number of emails, the greater an impact we'll make.

The passage of this bill will have a huge negative impact on education, economic and recreational opportunities, in addition to putting unreasonable restrictions and penalties on innocent civilians.  

In this regard, we request you to sign this petition and pass this petition to your family and friends.

Photo courtesy: iStockphoto 

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