Geospatial information regulation bill 2016

MapsofIndia Team at Compare Infobase Limited believes that the law acts as a deterrent to circulation of wrongly depicted maps on the internet, social networking sites, print and electronic media in general. There has also been a tendency where many people in India use maps available on international website(s), which often depict India’s boundaries wrongly.

We admit that there is the need for some form of regulation for the ocean of geospatial information. The National Map Policy appears to be outdated, as is the idea of trying to force multinational organizations to respect our country’s territorial integrity by using sections of Information Technology Act. Therefore, an Act to regulate Geospatial Information is the need of the hour and the proposed legislation is intended for this purpose.

However, at the same time, MapsofIndia Team believes that this draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 seems to be taking things too far and in a direction that is unlikely to make much of a constructive impact. Therefore, as required, MapsofIndia Team would like to put forward some important observations/suggestions before the Ministry of Home Affairs –

1. Sec. 1(4): 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.

Comment: Thus, any unlicensed geospatial information published outside India would also amount to offense. Once geospatial information is sold by Licensee to any overseas client, the Licensee shall have little control over the derivative or end-product that the overseas client creates.

2. Sec. 2(e): “Geospatial Information” means geospatial imagery or data acquired through space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles including value addition; or graphical or digital data depicting natural or man-made physical features, phenomenon or boundaries of the earth or any information related thereto including surveys, charts, maps, terrestrial photos referenced to a co-ordinate system and having attributes.

Comment: The definition is so wide that it covers almost all depictions of maps from a natural disaster map to a geography map for kids and GPS-enabled devices like cameras, smartphones, tablets, etc. Any graphical depiction of map like “not to scale” map images also comes under graphical depiction of geospatial information. The definition of Geospatial information as stated in this bill is contradictory to the approach taken by National Geospatial Policy (NGP) 2016 that was released along with the draft. The policy aims at empowering people through geospatial technologies and enable promotion, adoption and implementation of emerging/state-of-the-art technologies for data acquisition, product generation, solutions and services based on geospatial data. The requirement for licensing of service providers is taking the process backwards as it is not in line with the government’s programmes like Digital India and Start up India.

  • Thus, the definition of “Geospatial Information” need to be refurbished.

3. Sec 2(j): “Person” includes; –
i. an individual,
ii. a company,
iii. a firm,
iv. a trust,
v. an association of persons or a body of individuals, whether incorporated or not,
vi. every artificial juridical person, not falling within any of the preceding sub-clauses, and
vii. any agency, office or branch owned or controlled by any of the above persons mentioned in the preceding sub-clauses.

Comment: Each individual is included, which is neither practical nor feasible. How could it be possible for every individual to get license and Security Vetting Authority would be enormously burdened in order to handle such a huge number of applications, that would come from individuals.

  • Definition of ‘Person’ should be reconsidered and individuals should be excluded.

4. Sec. 2(o): “Security Vetting of Geospatial Information” means a process followed by the Vetting Authority, which inter-alia includes i) conducting sensitivity checks with respect to the technical & information contents and the target area in consonance with the provisions of the prevailing National Policies and ii) screening of the credentials of the end-users and end-use applications, with the sole objective of protecting national security, sovereignty, safety and integrity.

Comment: Screening of End-Users and End-Use Applications would again add to the huge number of applications as well as over-burdening of Security Vetting Authority.

  • Screening of credentials of end-users and end-use application should be excluded.

5. Sec. 3(1): Save as otherwise provided in this Act, rules or regulations made thereunder, or with the general or special permission of the Security Vetting Authority, no person shall acquire geospatial imagery or data including value addition of any part of India either through any space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles or terrestrial vehicles, or any other means whatsoever.

Comment: ‘Value Addition’ makes the scope of the regulation too much wider. Every end-user at its end makes value addition to the existing licensed geospatial information, be it an End-User of a cab service App, a food delivery service App or any other geo-tagged/location service application. Thus, every time an end-User makes an entry to such App using geospatial information, value is added to the existing geospatial information. We understand the bill doesn’t aim to regulate cab-hailing apps or stop users from geo-tagging personal photographs or share their location on social media with friends but the ambiguity in the bill may discourage innovation and everyday usage of maps in India.

  • Unless there is substantial value addition, there should not be any need to get value added data be licensed from Security Vetting Authority.

6. Sec. 3(2): Every person who has already acquired any geospatial imagery or data of any part of India either through space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles or terrestrial vehicles or any other manner including value addition prior to coming of this Act into effect, shall within one year from the commencement of this Act, make an application along with requisite fees to the Security Vetting Authority for retaining such geospatial information and grant of license thereof.

Comment: Again, “value addition” is there, which poses concerns on similar grounds as mentioned there in comments against Section 3(1). Further, this clause provides that Application to be filed along with requisite fee. There is already a fee charged by SOI for valuation of International Boundaries. If there would be a fee to get Geospatial Data licensed from Security Vetting Authority, it would add to the cost of product(s) which in turn, would result in loss of business.

7. Sec. 3(3): The Security Vetting Authority shall, within three months from the date of receipt of an application made under sub-section (2), either grant a license with such conditions as may be specified thereon or reject the application as the case may be after examining the application in terms of the guidelines. Provided that no application shall be rejected under this section unless the applicant has been given a reasonable opportunity of presenting his case.

Comment: This process poses a serious threat to any real-time information collection, especially in cases of emergencies. For example, Mapsofindia collected and disseminated data during natural disasters starting from infamous Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004) to Chennai floods (2015) and recent Cyclone Roanu (May 2016). These maps proved helpful in rescue and relief operations and were accessed by hundreds of thousands across the globe. Under this new draft Regulation, we will have to apply for a fresh license (as real-time information collection consequently results into ‘value addition’) every time and wait for Security Vetting Authority’s permission before publishing such a map. The Security Vetting Authority may take up to 3 months to either grant or reject the application.

8. Sec. 3(4): No person shall continue possession of geospatial information of India, after rejection of the application by the Security Vetting Authority under sub-section (3) above or after dismissal of appeal, if any, by the Appellate Authority or the High Court or the Supreme Court, as the case may be, whichever is later.

9. Sec. 4: Dissemination, Publication or Distribution of the Geospatial Information of India: Save as otherwise provided in this Act, rules or regulations made thereunder, and with the general or special permission of the Security Vetting Authority, no person shall disseminate or allow visualization of any geospatial information of India either through internet platforms or online services, or publish or distribute any geospatial information of India in any electronic or physical form.

Comment: This clause doesn’t consider the growth of Internet ecosystem in the country. Here, a clear demarcation should be made between who would be the service provider using such data for commercial purpose and end users acting as mere beneficiaries of such services.

10. Sec. 5: Save as otherwise provided in any international convention, treaty or agreement of which India is signatory or as provided in this Act, rules or regulations made thereunder, or with the general or special permission of the Security Vetting Authority, 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.

Comment: Sections 3(1) through Section 5 might bring back days of license raj of India from which the Industry has moved on. Further, it would create multiple hurdles in business and technological development for companies and start-ups.

11. Sec. 6: No person shall depict, disseminate, publish or distribute any wrong or false topographic information of India including international boundaries through internet platforms or online services or in any electronic or physical form.

Comment: Mapsofindia Team supports this clause. However, we understand that the nature of geospatial data is prone to errors. Therefore, there should not be any immediate punishment, rather it should be brought out to the knowledge of the creator/owner of such incorrect/false information and he should be given an opportunity to rectify the mistake and publish an apology in this regard. Repeat offenders must be punished.

12. Sec. 9(1): Any person who wants to acquire, disseminate, publish or distribute any geospatial information of India, may make an application along with requisite fees to the Security Vetting Authority for security vetting of such geospatial information and license thereof to acquire, disseminate, publish or distribute such Geospatial Information in any electronic or physical form.

Comment: Same as Point 3, 7 and 8.

13. Sec 11(2): Licensee shall not acquire, publish, disseminate or distribute any geospatial information of India through any media or by any means, unless such geospatial information are security-vetted by the Security Vetting Authority.

Comment: Same as Point 3,7 and 8.

14. Sec 11(3): Licensee shall display the insignia of the clearance of the Security Vetting Authority on the security-vetted geospatial information by appropriate means such as water-marking or license as relevant, while disseminating or distributing of such geospatial information.

Comment: No issues in this clause.

15. Sec. 11(4): Licensee shall indemnify the Security Vetting Authority for any consequential loss or damages whatsoever that might be caused to any person or agency in India or abroad, due to the use or supply of security vetted geospatial information.

Comment: The Security Vetting Authority is responsible for the sensitivity checks and correctness of the Geospatial information, before granting license for the Application. So, there is no point in Licensee indemnifying Security Vetting Authority against third-party claims.

  • Indemnification clause should be repealed

16. Sec. 12: Whoever acquires any geospatial information of India in contravention of section 3, shall be punished with a fine ranging from Rupees one crore to Rupees one hundred crore and/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.
Identical penalty provisions are there in Sections 13, 14 and 15 for the violation of Sections 4, 5 and 6 respectively. Additionally, Section 16 provides identical penalty for violation of license terms and conditions.

Comment: While there must be punitive provision to give tooth and nail to the legislation, the punitive provisions seem a little harsh. As explained in earlier comment, the nature of Geospatial data is prone to errors. Therefore, punishment should be suspended for the first-time offenders and reasonable time should be given to them to rectify their mistakes.

17. Sec. 18(2): The Enforcement Authority shall, if he has reasonable cause to suspect that any contravention of the provisions of this Act, rules or regulations made thereunder has been committed, shall have access to any computer resource, any apparatus, data or any other material connected with such system, for the purpose of searching or causing a search to be made for obtaining any information or data contained in or available to such computer system.

Comment: Search should be conducted only under a warrant or with prior notice.

To sum up, in MapsofIndia Team’s opinion, if passed in same form as current draft, the Act will have an adverse impact on the Industry and growth of Digital India. It will severely affect geospatial industry. Although MapsofIndia Team definitely supports the need of a Geospatial Information Regulation Act, but the required Act has to be an enabling and encouraging Act that makes implementation of national programmes, consumer aspirations and economic growth better and faster.

Therefore, in our opinion, the draft should be more aligned with the National Geospatial Policy, 2016., instead of being divergent from it, as is the case now. Considering the vast usage and reach of geospatial services, the bill should exclude certain usage as “restricted” instead of bringing all services under the purview of regulator. The focus of the bill should be exclusively on the misuse of Geospatial information by those with malicious intent. The requirement of licensing can be substituted by that of registration, and the auditing of registered platforms can be done by an independent agency. This will put the onus of securing national interest with the agency concerned and not on every application or platform as the case is now. Further, provisions of penalties need to be aligned to the nature of crime.