This article is written by Srishti Gupta. Srishti is a fourth-year law student from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU.
The Ministry of Home Affairs on May 4, 2016, released a draft of ‘The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016’. The drafting of this Bill was repercussion of the attack in Pathankot airbase. Google conducts a contest called ‘Mapathon’ contributing to the mapping features of a city. In 2013, Vishal Saini was its winner and the city chosen by him was Pathankot. This resulted in a petition by Lokesh Kumar Sharma in the Delhi High Court where he sought directions of the Court to restrain Google from making available maps and images of sensitive and defence establishment. Then, the Additional Solicitor General assured the Bench that ‘steps are in progress to regulate the publication of aerial/satellite geospatial data.’ Hence, the draft was introduced.
The prime objective of the Bill is to regulate the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information of India which is likely to affect the security, sovereignty and integrity of India. It is applicable to all Indian citizens, even those outside the country, as well as “persons on ships and aircrafts, registered in India, wherever they may be.
In simple terms, it means that every bit of geospatial information has to be cleared for approval from the Security Vetting Authority appointed under this Bill. This information shall include every graphical or digital data, which can be as simple as a Facebook check-in or geo-tagging on Twitter or even a map for personal reference.
Any person who wants to use the geo-spatial information shall have to apply for a license with requisite fees within a year of enactment for the Bill. This also includes those who are already in possession of such information. However, that is not all. The Authority, having the power of refusal to grant such license, can take only as long as 3 months to grant the license. The most crucial ground for refusal is that the piece of information threatens “national security, sovereignty, safety and integrity.
Apart from having the right to revoke the license after giving an opportunity of being heard, there are penalties for using unlicensed geo-spatial information which includes a fine from Rs. 10 Lakh to Rs. 100 Crore and imprisonment for a period of 7 years.
It is admitted that there is need for reformation in this area as the National Map Policy is outdated but this idea is unlikely to take things towards a constructive impact. This Bill shall have an effect on every person and every business including Google, App based Cab companies like Uber, Ola. Basically, whosoever uses location as a major feature is likely to be affected with the coming of this Bill.
The Bill, however, is neither free from flaws nor consequences. The first one being that there is no amount prescribed as requisite fees for applying for a license which means it can vary from person to person. Secondly, maps are an essential resource for academicians. Institutions are likely to absorb the financial shock from students by hiking their fees. The Bill will have a major impact on start up businesses for which the geo-spatial information is essential and shall ultimately pass on their financial burden on to the customers. This Bill also covers individuals using geo-spatial information for private purposes and categorises it as illegal which is again a violation of their fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression as well as their right to privacy under Article 19(1) (a) and Article 21 respectively.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has not come out with a concrete statement on the Bill till date but had accepted comments on the draft until June 4, 2016.