Hearing Arnab Goswami shouting on Newshour on the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill was a revelation. It just exposed how the limited is our understanding of geospatial information and its utility. Pakistan bashing on debate is fine but the real issue with Bill is not Kashmir but how it will stifle the geospatial users in India and will effectively be sound a death knell for the Indian geospatial industry.
Ever since the draft was put up inviting public comments, I have been meaning to ask the following questions. I wish someone in the MHA had answers to these:
- The proposed Bill defines Geospatial Information as “geospatial imagery or data acquired through space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, UAVs…. any information related thereto including surveys, charts, maps, terrestrial photos referenced to a co-ordinate system and having attributes”. Does it mean even simple navigation maps used by regular users or cab drivers will need to be regulated and need licences.
- What happens if the data needs an update? The draft Bill covers information that we think of as relatively stable but also talks about “graphical or digital data depicting… man-made physical features”. In cities we see roads being modified, overpasses being constructed, temporary and permanent diversions being created almost on a daily basis. So, what happens when the data change? Doe the maps/apps need to apply for nod from the vetting authority every time such a change takes place or say a new restaurant comes up?
- The Bill says it extends to the whole of India and applies also to citizens of India outside India and persons in the service of the Government. Then how do you control the foreign entities like Google or Microsoft etc?
- On the other hand the Bill also says “any person, who commits an offence beyond India, which is punishable under this Act, shall be dealt with according to the provisions of this Act in the same manner as if such act had been committed in India.” Does it mean it will regulate how non Indian entities portray Indian maps outside India? Do we have the bandwidth to handle all applications for this usage inside and outside India?
- It is a fact that India claims more territories that it actually administers. The Line of Control is the recognised by the United Nations. How do we enforce foreign entities including the UN from accepting to India’s version?
- The Act says “every person who has already acquired any geospatial imagery or data of any part of India either through space or aerial platforms…” need to apply for a licence. Every smartphone user is a collector/acquirer of geospatial information today. Does the govt propose to make roughly 204.1 million people apply for licences and plan to regulate them as to how many times they apply for new licences each time they acquire new information?
- Is it right to restrict access to Indian data for Indians just because Google and Microsoft are not complying with Indian security concerns? Is blanking out sensitive areas in maps not going to draw attention precisely to these areas?
- High resolution imagery which Google and Microsoft use are supplied by Digital Globe, Spotimage, Blackbridge and other companies. Even if we ban Google maps, Google Earth and Bing Maps terror mongers can still buy these imagery directly from these companies. Does the govt propose to ban these companies as well?
- Does the govt think that terrorists use Google maps only and not other sources including on-site recce like Hadley had done?
- Do we need to obtain licenses for using/buying/sourcing NRSC data as well?