There are three problems that any opposition is likely to face (including ours) to the remarkably poorly thought out Geospatial Information bill:
1. Discussions will be mostly about national security: Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju, to the Economic Times: “India as a responsible power must have established guidelines”… “We won’t create hurdles for business and technological development, but national security considerations must not be compromised either.”
A government official told ET: “Pathankot air base, which was recently attacked, can be seen on Google Maps. Terrorists plot strikes on sensitive targets studying Google Maps”, “Our plea to black out sensitive installations do not yield results. This Bill is now sending a strong message that US companies cannot be running roughshod over Indian security interests.”
MediaNama’s Take: The bill could have only looked at the representation of India’s national borders and the representation of defense establishments on maps, and not all location data, its collection and generation. But it doesn’t. It forces licensing and vetting of all geolocation data, including if I WhatsApp my current location (with just a tap) to a friend who is coming over to meet me. The bill also invalidates creation and sharing of location information via a panic button.
If I’m tracking my walking routes on a map using Runkeeper, or plotting powercuts in India using Ushahidi, as a means of data journalism, it would be illegal. All of this is Geospatial Information, and not all Geospatial information is a national security risk or concern. This will kill realtime sharing, and adds bureaucracy. No Internet service which uses location information (and most internet services track it) will survive this bill.
Above, we’ve embedded an image of how News18 used to depict news on the map. This would be illegal.
From the savethemap.in FAQs:
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.
2. People will think it’s just about maps: Much of the reporting and commentary on it has been focused on the mapping aspect of it, and people and startups won’t realize that it actually applies to all location information that users and their phones generate, create and publish. This much-shared infographic from the Times of India focused almost entirely on maps, and not on the fact that it is all about locational data generated. This Indian Express report focuses on the fine that map platforms might face.
MediaNama’s Take: They don’t take into account, as we mentioned earlier, that even a photograph that you take with your camera has automated locational metadata, which is geospatial information. We’ve got a list of some services that might be impacted (here), including Ola, Uber, Oyo, Zomato, and all ecommerce delivery companies. Datameet has another list (here).
To quote the savethemap.in FAQs:
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.
3. People will think it is just about Google: BJP MP Tarun Vijay told the Economic Times (while suggesting the government owned Bhuvan as an alternative): “Why do we need Google? We should stop becoming Google’s instruments”, “The patriotic government of Narendra Modi has taken a right step in a big relief to the security establishment. UPA did not take any action despite my pleas to the then Defence Minister AK Antony. I congratulate the Modi government for showing spine in face of arrogance of these IT giants”…”Google has been behaving as if it were above Indian law”.
MediaNama’s Take: Google isn’t the only mapping service provider, though it is the most user friendly one. OpenStreetMap is an important alternative, and one that open source communities support, and want to strengthen as an alternative. If Tarun Vijay is so concerned about Google Maps becoming dominant, then why not push the government to make Bhuvan better, more open, easier to use, and let people decide? The point is that Google might as well go and buy a license and give the government of India the control that they want. But should every location based service be sacrificed for this?
We’re glad that this is an open consultation process, but frankly, like the draft encryption policy, we’re better off with this scrapped.