Defence Ministry to explore declassifying spatial data

Defence Ministry to explore declassifying spatial data

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New Delhi, India: The Defence Ministry will be asked by the Government of India at the Cabinet meeting today to explore declassifying spatial data and making it available to the general public. In the meeting, approval is likely to be sought for laying broad parameters on evolving a national policy on data-sharing and accessibility.

A Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Home Minister P Chidambaram and including HRD minister Kapil Sibal, Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh met thrice on the issue over the last few months and concurred on the need for such a policy, according to The Indian Express report.

Besides asking all government departments to reclassify data into sensitive and non-sensitive within the next six months, the Centre also proposes to draw up a negative list that will contain the genuinely sensitive information. The negative list is proposed to be reviewed every five years.

These steps are being taken keeping in view provisions of the RTI Act besides empowering citizens to secure access to information. While there is a need to restrict dissemination of data impacting national security, the argument favouring such a policy is the large amount of non-sensitive data generated using public funds and the rationale for the public to have access to it.

For long now, successive governments at the Centre have adopted a blinkered approach towards declassifying information, especially geo-spatial data that also has commercial value. According to officials, the same information maybe available freely on the internet or other media, but the government has been forced to turn a blind eye and deny the data to the public as it is defined as classified.

After the Cabinet approval, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) which will be the nodal agency involved, will also prepare the format — whether analogue or digital — for storage of the data. The DST will also work on a pricing policy to decide on the charges to be levied on information accessed by the public.

The Department of Space had earlier objected to the new policy on data-sharing on the grounds that a National Map Policy 2005 is already in place. However, the GoM has overruled these objections.

Source: The Indian Express