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India Needs to “Save the Map” before this Bill could affect Apps on your Smartphone

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Would you say digital footprints of India are growing? Well, if we take things like Digital India and Startup India in consideration, it definitely feel like the country is on a path to become one of the greatest technology enabled nations. India has the fastest growing telecom market in the world, which now connects millions of users online through mobile and computers. Today, you will see a smartphone in the hand of most Indians, while it can be debated that we as a nation is growing strong in terms of technology usage, it’s hardly ever stopped our government to practically switch reverse gear.

Yes, the very same government that has laid foundations for programs like Digital India and Startup India, is promoting a bill that will bring down most of the startups and mobile applications we used unless the companies get license from the Ministry of Home Affairs to use the geospatial data. You ask what it is regarding. Well, On May 4th, a draft for a new bill titled,”The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016” was submitted for approval that will regulate the way we citizens use maps. Once approved, this bill will enable the government to control the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information of India.

What is Geospatial Data? Why Should it concern me?

The Geospatial data represents the location, size, and shape of an object on the planet Earth such as building, rivers, mountain, or even township. GIS (Geographic Information System), or any other applications can be used to access, visualize, change and analyze the geospatial data. In simple terms, the geospatial data represents the maps we use on Google, the check in we do on our Facebook profile every time we see a new place or hang out at our favorite spot. We use geospatial data when we share the location of our place via services like WhatsApp. And why you should be concerned is that because this new bill draft stands against all of it. If it ever passed, not just any organization using maps to provide their services within India would have to take the license for using those data, but every individual using these services will also fall under this Act. Scary, isn’t it! The smartphone world as we know here we hail Uber/Ola in the city to travel, and navigate to our favorite and explore new places using maps, will be gone in a poof if this law passes.

Who does the ‘law’ apply to?

This bill affects individuals and businesses using geospatial data for service delivery in the country.

User Created Maps

There are various applications that allow users to create custom maps, so that it will be helpful for them in a personal way. Google Maps is one of the top services as the world knows in terms of mapping the planet and we Indians use it a lot. It helps us in navigating through the traffic, and how does it knows that there is a traffic ahead, because it maps its users based on the real time location service they have turned On while using their service. Overall, it not only helps users to navigate to their destination, but also helps them to get there fast. This bill that is being in the procedure to pass will not allow Google to offer any of its mapping services, unless they register for the license with authority.

Major Startups

  • JustDial
  • Onze (latlong.in)
  • Fourthlion
  • Mapbox
  • Ola
  • Uber
  • Swiggy
  • Gramener
  • Zomato
  • NextDrop
  • Housing.com
  • Mapunity
  • How India Lives
  • AirBnb
  • Zippr
  • Flipkart
  • Redbus
  • Reliance Industries Ltd
  • Reliance Jio Ltd
  • Reliance Infrastructure Ltd
  • Oyo Rooms
  • Google Maps
  • MakeMyTrip
  • ClearTrip
  • Gubbi Labs
  • MoveInSync
  • Quantum Designs
  • Nestoria

Personal Use Cases

  • Blog about your travel with a map having places you visited
  • Instagram with geo tag
  • Twitter picture with geo tag
  • Blog about your trek with path you took
  • Blog about your run with the path
  • Sharing the route you took from place A to place B

Why is this Bill bad for individuals and businesses?

Well, it is bad, because government will be vetting the services individual used, as the scope of the bill is not only to regulate the capture and collection of raw data, but also the dissemination and distribution of any kind, such as value added products like visualization, map and analyzed reports. So, that means individuals cannot write a blog/piece about the routes they took from place A to B, nor they can share their Instagram or Facebook picture with a geo tag as we listed above. If they do government will have to take strict actions against those individuals. This goes for media websites who wants to share a report using a visualized map of the country.

Why does government taking this action?

Earlier this year in February, Twitter, a popular micro-blogging website showcased that Jammu and Kashmir is a part of People’s Republic of China, while placing Jammu in Pakistan. The twitterati in India showed a lot of hate when users posting contents from that area reported such problem. It was quite shocking to see that. While it was not the first time that companies found displaying incorrect data. In 2014, Google was seen displaying India’s map incorrectly, which was reported to Ministry of Home Affairs by Survey of India.

Suggestion for the Bill

Taking such controversial actions against incorrect mistakes done by a couple of organizations isn’t the right way to go. Licensing the geospatial data would severely truncate startups using location-based services. It goes directly against the government campaigns like Startup India, Digital India, Smart Cities and NDSAP (National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy). The authority could have restrictions probably of spatial resolution and areas that will prevail, foreign players and terrorists, to access information such as high-resolution maps of military/defense zones in the country. But the current bill classifies the whole of India as restricted. It should be considered that the act applicable to data higher than 0.5m resolution. Moreover, the core issue would be primarily appropriated to the disputed border regions and not of India as a whole. The Government of India doesn’t disseminate high-resolution boundaries itself, well, then it is quite unreasonable to expect private players to have correct boundaries.

Penalties for Contravention

You would be shocked to see the penalities for the offences, if an individual or business doesn’t comply with this bill once passed. The Bill states that violators would have to pay a fine of Rs One Crore to Rs Hundred Crore in the contravention of section 3, or could land in prison sentence of up to seven years. There are five other offences listed under the Offences and Penalities chapter in the drafted bill. And they are quite harsh and land up you in imprisonment if not complied with.

How to Save the Map

The only thing that can be done for now is that you must send a reply to the Join Secretary (Internal Security-I), Ministry of Home Affairs via an email at jsis@nic.in within the 30 days of the submission of draft, i.e June 4, 2016. You can also spread the awareness about this bill in your network. As well as ask them to respond to this bill via email reply to the above mail. Tell, them why it’s a bad idea for MHA to even consider the bill in its current state.

References:

Remember the last time, We netizens joined against Netneutrality? Its time we join our hands again & #SaveTheMap.

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