A new controversial bill attempts to force any and every mapping service on the planet to get a license from the Ministry of Home Affairs before operating here, else the executives can face fines up to a whopping Rs 100 crore or 7 years jail term!
Titled “Geospatial Information Regulation Bill”, the Home Affairs ministry made the draft public inviting comments from experts, public and seeking their opinion on the new controversial bill (the bill remains offline as of now for unexplained reasons while it was released publically on Friday, 6th May 2016). Critics are labeling the bill digital saffornization and “return of the license raj”
The crux of the bill
Acquisition of geospatial information of India is the purpose behind the bill. It clearly states that India’s geospatial data is solely owned by the Indian government. It doesn’t matter how you acquire the data, whether it’s sourced from a public domain or privately using your company’s own satellites, the data is owned solely by the government. This permission must be sought from a separate, newly-established entity called the Security Vetting Authority.
The bill states that any authority, individual or organization that utilizes India’s geospatial data without permission is liable to face a fine of Rs 100 crore and jail term of up to 7 years. This means if Google doesn’t receive permissions, its Indian executives could face actual jail term and a ridiculous amount in fine, if the controversial bill is passed.
The bill extends outside India as well
The bill clearly states “no person shall in any manner make use of, disseminate, publish or distribute any geospatial information of India, outside India, without prior permission from the Security Vetting Authority”. How would India extend its jurisdiction to fine or stop third party foreign identities from using India’s geospatial data? Why would any foreign company care what’s illegal in India, knowing that India quite literally has no ways to block or actually arrest/penalize violators outside its jurisdiction?
Why will the government do this?
There can be multiple reasons why the government is taking its time off defending national security, increasing privacy or other duties it is essentially supposed to do and instead focus on such an arbitrary bill. Some of these may include:
Promoting Make in India
By forcing and regulating foreign identities to get licensing, the government would clearly be promoting the “Make in India” campaign and encouraging Indian developers, designers and programmers to make their own Indian version of maps that can be used around here. The recently launched Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) could also be behind the promotion.
Promoting Digital India
This can also be a move to boost Digital India that somehow is too excessively patriotic, and thus favors only Indian companies and makes the process easier for Indian companies to start from scratch to compete with foreign identities that have already years in experience to have their own mapping facilities.
Genuine Security concerns
Reports of Google Maps leaking sensitive data including military and intelligence bases, sensitive or prone to threats locations and data are not new. Recently, Google Maps also showed parts of Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as a part of Pakistan and China respectively, which are claimed by India to be a part of India’s territory, so this matter insults India’s sovereign territory claims.
Frequent fines and licensing does not come cheap. This can be the source of revenue for the government because the fine can be as high as Rs 100 crore!
Which companies can be affected?
Any and every apps, digital website, GPS service or map that includes India is essentially targeted. This includes:
- Google Maps
- Wikipedia, which uses the United Nations geo-scheme for its maps
- Uber/ Ola, which uses maps
- Apple Maps, the integrated maps by Apple and so many more
What can we expect if the bill passes?
Possible outcomes if the bill passes can be most large GPS companies get licenses. But since this will be coming in exchange for a cost, companies will want to recover this cost – whether by increased costs to consumers or more advertisements, which is bad news for those of us using free open sourced maps.
Alternatively, companies might protest this ridiculous bill and possibly not serve India at all for some time in the hopes the government changes its decisions. This can possibly be a GPS blackout in India.
What should we do?
As before, write an email to the policymakers opposing this move immediately at email@example.com and share this information to reach as many people as possible - and now! Maximum responses mean the government might act to the public's demands. It just takes a minuite to write an email opposing this and could prevent the bill from becoming a law.
Read the complete bill here: http://mha.nic.in/sites/upload_files/mha/files/GeospatialBill_05052016_eve.pdf
While the bill is still being discussed, the final implementation isn’t yet decided. What do you think of the bill? Let us know in the comments on our official Facebook page Entrepreneur India