Mapathon 2013 – Potential Threat or New Gateways?

Google India organized the first mapping competition in India – Mapathon 2013 from February 13th to March 25th, a public competition to update its internet maps. Anybody staying in India could participate. The top 1000 mappers stood a chance of winning Google merchandise, smart phones and gift vouchers. Google Map Maker is a user friendly tool where one can select an area of Google Maps and add new information based on his or her own knowledge. Once the new input has been submitted and edited, the information is added to Google Maps. In this way mapping of local hospitals, rivers, temples, schools and even petrol pumps can make a lot of difference to people’s daily lives, not to mention to travelers and explorers.

However, this endeavor of Google became a political issue as well as the breach of security protocols. The Indian security establishments raised an uproar that such unauthorized internet maps could have serious repercussions on Indian security. R C Padhi (surveyor general of India) was the first to point out Google’s legal conformity and lodged a police case which may be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation for further investigation. According to sources, the Survey of India, the national survey and mapping organization has appealed to the ministries of defense, home affairs and science and technology to take appropriate measures to thwart illegal mapping activities like the Mapathon 2013. Illegal mapping can prove to be a potential threat to national security interests. Google Earth, Google Satellite Imagery and Google Maps are freely available to anybody. Such maps and imageries have often crossed the restriction of military establishments around the world. The government time and again had to get the service provider to blur or blank out the sensitive installations. Even BJP MP Tarun Vijay has agreed with the view of Mr. Padhi that the internet giant has willfully violated the Indian mapping laws. He also argued that Google should be booked for violating India’s defense regulation maps by “illegally inviting people to map the country and send data to its US based servers”.

Google however denied such allegations completely. According to them, they have strict guidelines and applicable laws as far as their mapping activities are concerned and they have no reason to jeopardize national security and that they keep themselves clear of “sensitive” installations.

It’s a fact that India is a poorly mapped country. The paper maps are inadequate and often inaccurate. With the advent of the Google Navigator which operates on the data provided by the Google maps and the GPS the average traveler and explorers are benefited enormously. So the Mapathon 2013 was definitely a very helpful measure to provide a detailed internet map of India. But one must keep in mind that just as a detailed map in the hands of a traveler is like a torch showing the way, in the wrong hands, it is an extremely accurate weapon for terrorism and other disruptive activities. After all, we must remember the bomb that exploded in the German Bakery in Pune killing innocent people. It was no security sensitive area but just a restaurant. With the Chinese incursion lurking on the borders and increased terrorist activities in the country, it is no wonder that the government is highly perturbed with Mapathon 2013.