Save The Map: Response to the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016

Ready to wait 3 months to “share your location” on WhatsApp with your friend?

On May 4th, 2016 the Ministry of Home Affairs published a bill that controls the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information in and outside India. This bill could make your daily use of maps illegal by requiring a 3 month vetting and approval process for any use of mapping.

Let them know you want to keep using maps in real time. The bill is inviting responses until June 3rd, 2016

September 6, 2016

Thank you so much for supporting Save the Map and sending your thoughts to the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill. We manage to send over 1700 emails to the MHA, and several organisations and groups sent feedback to them expressing disapproval of the current state of the bill.

As of the monsoon session the bill was not submitted to Parliament and seems to have been put on the back burner. There has been no official response regarding if they will change the draft and incorporate any of the feedback. So as of right now we are unsure if the bill will come back and what form it will take.

Again thank you for your support and quick action. We hope to continue working toward a good policy on geospatial information that supports individuals and businesses to continue to innovate in the space.

I work at a startup or a business that uses mapping data in India. How does it affect me?

Read the FAQs for Businesses

I don’t do any mapping. How does it affect me?

Read the FAQs for Citizen

What is the SavetheMap campaign?

SavetheMap (STM) is a campaign aimed at raising awareness about the Ministry of Home Affairs' proposed draft of the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016. This campaign will not have an official response to the draft but will request and help individuals and organisations to understand, reach out, and give specific comments to the MHA by June 3rd. For individuals who don't have specific feedback, please consider our general response below that asks for limiting the scope of the Bill.

What laws and policies regulate mapping in India at present?

National Map Policy and Guidelines issued by Survey of India regulate terrestrial mapping, i.e. non-aerial mapping. Remote Sensing Data Policy and Civil Aviation Rules, respectively, regulate mapping done using satellites on one hand, and planes and drones on the other. For more details, see: Before Geospatial Bill: A Long History of Killing the Map in Order to Protect the Territory.

What is STM's stance on the draft Bill?

STM believes this draft Bill defines "geospatial information" too widely, and is applicable on various uses of such information (including maps) all of which cannot be and should not be regulated in the same manner. STM is deeply worried that enactment of this Bill in present form can seriously effect economic opportunities in India and the ability of citizens to use maps for recreation, transactions, and information.

We need a strong and enabling geospatial policy? What other options are there?

Department of Science and Technology is in charge of policy making for maps and geospatial information in India. It has recently published a draft policy: National Geospatial Policy.

Response

Click on the link below to email the Ministry of Home Affairs
(We BCC ourselves so we can keep count of how many emails have been sent)

Send (via Gmail) Send (via Yahoo Mail) Send (via Other)

FAQs

General Citizens Businesses

General
Q: Who has proposed this bill?

This bill has been drafted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

Q: What is the stated goal of this bill? How does it aim to achieve this?

This bill seeks to ensure the security, sovereignty and integrity of India by regulating the collection and publication of geospatial information pertaining to India.

Q: What exactly does the “geospatial information” mentioned in this bill refer to?

The bill defines geospatial information as either “geospatial imagery or data” or “graphical or digital data” pertaining to the territory of India. This would regulate any data, visual or otherwise, acquired through any means, including satellites, UAVs, drones, balloons, cameras or any GPS enabled device, as well as the representation of this data, in the form of maps, charts and print materials that depict natural or manmade features drawn to a geographic scale.

Q: How does the bill seek to regulate geospatial information?

The bill requires individuals as well as organisations to seek the permission of the government

Q: Whom does this bill apply to? Whom does it not apply to?

This bill applies to all citizens of India, whether located within or outside India. It also applies to foreigners in India or aboard ships or aircraft registered in India. The bill does not apply to any Indian Central and State Government agencies.

Q: What laws and policies regulate mapping in India at present?

National Map Policy and Guidelines issued by Survey of India regulate terrestrial mapping, that is non-aerial mapping. Remote Sensing Data Policy and Civil Aviation Rules, respectively, regulate mapping done using satellites on one hand, and planes and drones on the other. For more details, please see: Mapping the Legal Journey of Geospatial Data (in India).

Q: What’s the big deal about this bill? Isn’t this bill about forcing foreign map providers to show correct Indian Boundaries?

While a section in the bill requires all entities to use and display correct boundaries of the country, the bill as a whole tries to regulate a lot more. It talks about licensing all entities and individuals who create, collect, analyse and distribute all kinds of geospatial data. It talks about a bureaucratic committee which will license all such entities, and will vet all such data after collection and before distributing it. This poses a serious threat to any real-time information collection, especially in cases of emergencies.

Q: MP Tarun Singh suggests that the main concern behind the bill is the mapping of India’s defence installations (such as in Pathankot) by companies such as Google. Do such acts jeopardize our national security? Won’t this bill ensure that terrorists and Foreign Players do not know about our security installations?

We are completely in agreement with the Ministry of Home Affairs that every effort should be made to regulate such mapping of Vital Areas (VAs)/Vital Points(VPs) in the interest of national security. Unfortunately, the bill in its current form regulates much more than just this. In fact it does not mention defence installations at all, and instead clamps down on maps of all kinds, from mundane street maps to humanitarian disaster maps, from weather maps to maps that teach children geography.

More importantly, high resolution satellite imagery and maps of border areas will continue to be easily accessible to foreign militaries and terrorists located outside India. All that this bill will therefore achieve is to keep Indian Citizens and companies in the dark, and at a disadvantage when compared to International IT and geospatial industry.

Citizens
Q: Why should I as a citizen be concerned if I don’t work with maps myself?

When you hail an Uber/Ola by marking your location on a map, you are creating geospatial information. When you take a Geotagged image, you are creating geospatial information. When you "share your location" on WhatsApp with your friend, you’re creating creating and disseminating geospatial information. When you retweet a map or satellite image, you are distributing geospatial data. You, even as an end user of these apps and services, fall within the scope of multiple provisions of this Act (s.3, s.4), and hence need a licence under this act. Technically, the bill will make sharing your location with a third party without prior government approval illegal. In reality the Act in such cases may not be enforced, but it can be selectively used by the government to punish or control individuals and organisations as they see fit.

Q: What is geospatial data?

Geospatial data is another way to describe maps and mapping information. The bill defines geospatial information as any data, visual or otherwise, about the surface of Indian territory acquired through any means, including satellites, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), drones, balloons, cameras or any GPS enabled device. It also includes the representation of this information, in the form of maps, charts and print materials that depict natural or man made features drawn to a geographic scale.

Q: Won’t this bill only force big players like Google, OpenStreetMap and Digital Globe to get Licenses?

It might seem that it is only large companies such as Google and Bing Maps who collect and distribute such data, but that is incorrect. The bill is very broad and covers all uses of geospatial data by citizens and companies.

Q: Isn’t allowing the public and private players to have this kind of data a security risk? What’s the benefit of the public having access to this kind of data?

Most people, without realising it, benefit from the use of geospatial data. GeoSpatial data is used by citizens and private organizations from diverse fields and all walks of life. It is used by companies in the Transport, Logistics, Insurance, Construction, Utilities and many other fields. It is used by ordinary villages to find the best place to build check dams to save water. It is used by regular fishermen to go to the place which has the best fish. It is used in emergency situations like the Chennai floods, the Uttarkhand fires, and the Nepal earthquake. It can be used for finding trapped mountaineers as well as in child and women safety trackers. Citizens have a right to Information, and geospatial data is just another kind of Information.

Q: What is the impact of this regulation on my privacy?

The bill gives the government powers to ensure surveillance and monitoring of your personal data to ensure compliance with the regulations. This also allows security agencies to search and confiscate phones, computer and other personal devices if they suspect someone may have broken the regulations of the act.

Q: How does the Geospatial information bill affect my Right to Information?

The Right to Information Act, 2005 of our nation gives us right to information. Under this act, any citizen can have access to public information in their required ’format’ (e.g. maps of areas affected due to development projects). This bill is going to place further barriers on citizens (especially RTI activists) seeking to obtain such information from government authorities, by requiring them to obtain a special license for geospatial information.

Q: How does the bill affect individuals during emergency situations?

When individuals are in emergency situations either natural or man made disaster, they often require geospatial information (e.g. locations of relief camps during the Chennai floods). This bill makes it difficult for individuals/organisations to freely generate and share such information.

As an example, here’s how OSM and HOTOSM is being used in current flood situation in SriLanka.

Q: How will the passage of this Bill harm us?

The Central Government talks about Digital India, Startup India, as well as Smart Cities. None of these objectives can be achieved without free and easy access to geospatial Data. If a farmer cannot access Weather and Soil data for his field, what Digital India are you talking about? If a startup has to get a license and has to get each and every record vetted by a bureaucratic committee, how can it compete on the Global stage? How can you have Smart Cities without Internet of Things (IoT) sensors providing real time dynamic information of traffic, utilities, transport in our cities? Passage of this bill will bring to a halt most of modern IT Enabled Services (ITES) as well as Location Based Services.

Q: I now understand that this Bill has a number of issues. What actions do we take next?

The first and most important step is to reach out to the Joint Secretary (Internal Security-I), Ministry of Home Affairs via email at jsis@nic.in before June 3rd with comments and feedback. You can optionally use our email template provided above.

Secondly, please spread awareness about this bill in your network, and ask all to send a response to this bill, explaining why this is a bad idea, and why it’s a mistake for the MHA to even consider this bill in its current state.

Email the Ministry of Home Affairs

Businesses
Q: What’s the Big Deal about this bill? Isn’t this bill about ensuring that foreign map providers correctly depict Indian Boundaries?

This bill is not just limited to foreign map providers. All businesses that are using maps will have to go through the license and vetting process. While a section in the bill requires all entities to use and display correct boundaries of the country, the bill as a whole tries to regulate a lot more. It talks about licensing all entities and individuals who create, collect, analyse and distribute all kinds of GeoSpatial data. It talks about a bureaucratic committee which will license all such entities, and will Vet all such data after collection and before distributing it.

Q: Why should I as a business owner be concerned? Won’t this force just the big players like Google, and OSM and Digital Globe to get Licenses?

It might seem that it is only large companies such as Google and Bing Maps who collect and distribute such data, but that is incorrect. If your startup or app asks for user location they are creating geospatial information. Your end user of the apps and services you provide, fall within the scope of multiple provisions of this Act (s.3, s.4), and hence need a licence under this act.

Q: How will the passage of this Bill harm my business?

The Central Government talks about Digital India, Startup India, as well as Smart Cities. None of these objectives can be achieved without free and easy access to Geospatial Data. If a startup has to get a license and has to get each and every record vetted by a bureaucratic committee, how can it compete on the Global stage? Passage of this bill will bring to a halt most of modern ITES as well as Location Based Services.

Q: I now understand that this Bill has a number of issues. What actions do we take next?

The first and most important step is to reach out to the Joint Secretary (Internal Security-I), Ministry of Home Affairs via email at jsis@nic.in before June 3rd with comments and feedback. You can optionally use our email template provided above.

Secondly, please spread awareness about this bill in your network, and ask all to send a response to this bill, explaining why this is a bad idea, and why it’s a mistake for the MHA to even consider this bill in its current state.

Email the Ministry of Home Affairs

Testimonials

Devdatta:
My opposition to this bill is about more than just the Geospatial aspect. This bill is an ill-thought-out and ham fisted attempt to control and force international mapping providers to follow local laws, but it will leave several domestic and smaller players dead as collateral damage. The government might want all satellite data companies to allow the sale of only low-resolution data, but these kinds of laws will have to be followed only by the entities working within the country and not those outside. This leaves the nascent Indian GIS Industry at a disadvantage, when compared to its counterparts across the globe. Read more.
Sajjad:
The proposed Geospatial Information Regulation Bill has the effect to shutdown Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team in India and silence volunteer mappers, cartographers, and data analysts who support humanitarian response, basically stopping them from saving lives. The Bill prevents any individual or organisation from using satellite or aerial imagery; it also blocks the use of assisted equipments to collect geospatial information and the possession of such data. This means that, from now on, no one will ever be able to make a map of India, or parts of this country, for anything – humanitarian or business – without the approval of the authorities. The potential consequences of the Bill are dramatic. Preventing people from making maps affects how they live in our country, it breaks down disaster response, and troubles our economy. Read more.
Thejesh:
For an open data enthusiast like me, the IRNSS was particularly exciting, because it provided a Standard Positioning Service (SPS), which was essentially location data that would be open for civilian use. It would give birth to new kinds of maps and Geographic Information System (GIS)-based startups. The SPS information could be used, for instance, to make accurate maps that could be useful during natural disasters like the Chennai floods or the Nepal earthquake... Ever heard of the India Biodiversity Portal? It’s a free and open repository of information about India’s biodiversity, and allows anyone to contribute and access information. The portal currently has 206 user-created maps that detail everything from the geographical spread of India’s butterfly population to its aquifers. It’s a goldmine of data for researchers, policymakers, and students, and is endorsed by the government’s National Knowledge Commission to promote decentralisation, transparency, the right to information, and participatory action. But if the Geospatial Regulation Bill comes through, actions like community collecting, aggregating, visualising and publishing this kind of location data could be illegal. Read more.
Sumandro and Adya:
Let’s take [a] bizarre hypothetical situation – the Security Vetting Agency being asked to go through the entire geospatial data chest of Google everyday (or as soon as it is updated) and it taking up to ‘ three months from the date of receipt’ of the data to complete this checking so that Google Maps can tell you how crowded a particular street was three months ago... The present bill imposes an undesirable bureaucratic structure of licenses and permits upon the GIS industry in the country in particular, and on all sections of the economy using networked devices in general. This will only end up restricting the size of the GIS industry to a few dominant players. For all creators and users of maps for non-commercial, developmental, and humanitarian interests, this bill appears to be an imminent threat, even if it is never actually applied. Read more.

In the news

Who is running STM?

The STM team consists of a group of volunteers. We all are concerned map users who want to see a improved, open, streamlined, and time-bound regulation of maps in India.

How do I join STM?

Join the STM Slack, or engage with STM on Twitter.

How do I participate in policy discussions?

Share your comments on the Hackpad: The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016.

Contributors
  • Aditya

  • Arun

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  • Craig

  • Devdatta

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  • Gaurav

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  • Karthik

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  • Nisha

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  • Sajjad

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  • Smile

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  • Souvik

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  • Srikanth

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  • Srinivas

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  • Sumandro

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  • Tharunya

  • Thejesh

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