Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016: An archaic, bureaucratic, half baked approach to policy

geospatialIn a submission to the Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi, MediaNama.com, a premier source of information and analysis on Digital and Telecom businesses in India, analysing and reporting on the Internet and Mobile ecosystem for almost eight years, has taken strong exception to the latest Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016, calling it “arbitrary”. A summary of the submission:

This law is such that it is impossible to implement, makes everyone break it, makes everyday usage of applications illegal, hurts and harms the startup ecosystem and Internet users, and negatively impacts all those who use the Internet. This is an impractical policy, and needs to be overhauled completely. It appears to have been created only with the limited understanding of physical maps or just Google maps, without a clear understanding of how users and businesses use location data. It is unbecoming of a government which has digital ambitions for India to even consider such an archaic, bureaucratic and half baked approach for a policy in India. Our recommendations:

1. Change the Name of the bill and limit the scope of the bill to depiction of sensitive information: We would recommend renaming the bill to ‘Sensitive Geospatial Information Regulation Bill’ from ‘Geospatial Information Bill’, and limit the scope of the bill to only the depiction of information which is deemed sensitive from the perspective of National Security, as well as from the perspective of depiction of India’s borders. The reasons for this recommendation:

a. This will allow innovation using location data in a manner that is unburdened by onerous regulation, while at the same time ensuring national interest.
b. Given that the devices and services mentioned above would generate billions of location data points every second, it is impractical and impossible for any security vetting agency to track this data, and will reduce cost of operation.
c. Acquisition of geospatial information shouldn’t be illegal: Every citizen and every platform acquires geospatial information on a regular basis. Acquisition of information should be kept out of the scope of this bill, since a regular user or a mobile application or even a telecom business may inadvertently acquire geospatial information related to areas that might be sensitive. For example, if someone is using a mobile phone in a defence cantonment, it will generate location information due to cell tower triangulation. The cellular operator will acquire this information, as will the phone being used by every defence personnel.

2. Define of National Security and Sensitive Geospatial Information: Specificity in defining National Security and which locational information is sensitive, can help in identification of violations and in enforcement, and reduce the burden on security agencies and citizens. Without a definition of National Security, and the definition of sensitive Geospatial Information, this law will lead to arbitrary enforcement by security agencies.

3. Make penalties applicable only to mapping companies, and only for the information they themselves generate: This bill shouldn’t be applicable to those who use geospatial information or have nothing to do with depiction of maps. It should be applicable only to mapping companies for their depiction of mapping data, and for the data that they themselves (and not users) represent on a map, as well as how mapping companies represent data within India. As intermediaries they can’t be responsible for data that users generate. As explained above, users cannot be held responsible for data they inadvertently generate.

4. Limit scope to data representation within India: If all countries with disputed territories employ such a policy, digital mapping companies will cease to exist in those countries, and users will be deprived of useful and often essential and sometimes life-saving information. If there are boundary disputes between countries, mapping companies should be allowed to depict boundaries differently within different countries, so as to comply with local requirements in each country. Their helplessness shouldn’t be used by the Government as a foreign policy tool, at the risk of depriving Indian citizens of a key resource. As long as the depiction in our country is in line with its policy, we should be fine.

Click HERE for full submission

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