Posted in Bills, Critical Analysis

The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill: A short commentary

This article has been written by Torsha Sarkar. Torsha is a third-year law student in National Law University Odisha.

The Ministry of Home Affairs released a bill on 4th May, 2016, named ‘The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill’, which aimed to ‘regulate the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial information of India which is likely to to affect the security, sovereignity and integrity of India’[1]. As per the act, the term ‘geospatial information’ would mean all geospatial imagery which has been obtained through aerial means, like satellites or airplanes[2].

A bare perusal of the Bill shows that the Bill proposes the creation of a ‘Security Vetting Authority (SVA)’, who would give general permission for any acquisition of geospatial imagery. Further, the Bill also suggests that all those who have already acquired the geospatial information as defined, should, within one year of the commencement of the act, make an application to the Security Vetting Authority (SVA) for permission to retain the same. Any contravention of the same would result in a large amount of fine, ranging from ten lakh rupees to one crore rupees.

Who does this Bill impact?

 

The short answer is, everybody who uses maps in apps. From regular Whatsapp usage, whereby we send our location to our friends, to bigger apps like Google, Ola, Zomato, Uber, and so on. Any app who uses maps as a major part of their services and functions would be severely impacted if this bill is enacted and made into a law. The ‘geospatial imagery’ they had obtained would be subjected to the SVA for approval, and there is already a worry in the minds of scholars regarding the fact that this approval is subject to the discretion of  SVA, which is a bureacratic body, and that the whole process might get caught up in red-tapism[3].

Further, a potential enactment of this bill would also hamper scientific and academic research. The sweeping ambit of the definition of ‘geospatial information’ includes maps, aerial images and so on. These are the primary tools of research for earth scientists, and if this bill is enacted, these tools would be taken away from them[4].

Criticisms of the bill

The release of this bill has drawn flak and criticism from the legal and academic sphere alike. The Centre for Internet and Society had released comments on the same where they had proposed that the bill should be scraped off completely[5]. According to them, there are already laws existing which regulate usage of geospatial information that may undermine the security of India. Laws like the Official Secrest Act, 1923, as well as policies like The National Mapping Policy, 2005, which restricts wrongful depictions of India’s international borders. Say the government wants to substantiate the policy with a law, even in such cases the law enacted should be much more different, and would have a much more limited apply[6].

What could be the possible changes suggested to the Bill?

There are several areas of the Bill which require to be changed. One of the foremost is lessening the ambit of the definition ‘geospatial information’. As per the definition mentioned above, the sweep of this definition would also include personal messages (like Whatsapp), as well any tweet, or any Facebook post where the user ‘checks in’ in places. All such exchanges would require the prior approval of SVA, and it is the opinion of the author that an argument of this being violative of freedom of expression can be successfully made.

Further, section 15 of the Draft Bill imposes penalties for wrongful depictions of the boundaries of India[7]. Again, the sweep of ‘wrongful depictions’ is too broad. Not only this penalises wrongful depictions with reference to external political struggle, but it also penalises the depictions of India in history books, or newspaper reports which refer to such struggle and show the map as proposed by the enemy forces. This potential situation would again be violative of freedom of speech and expression.

While one can argue that the legislative intention behind the Bill is to stop internationally hostile forces from depicting Indian borders wrongful for their own gain, still the Bill is draconian is ambit, and lacks reasonable foresight. It is argued by the author that if the legislative intention is such, the Bill should only be passed with heavier amendments which would narrow the scope of the Bill.

[1]     Ministry of Home Affairs, ‘Note to all Stakeholders and Citizens'<http://mha.nic.in/sites/upload_files/mha/files/GeospatialBill_05052016_eve.pdf&gt; last accessed 26 September 2016

[2]     The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill (2016) s. 2(1)(e)

[3]     K.N. Prudhvi Raju and Sarfaraz Alam, ‘The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016’ (2016) 51 Economic and Political Weekly (Issue 31) 22, 23

[4]     id

[5]     Pranesh Prakash, ‘CIS’s Comments on the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016′<http://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/comments-draft-geospatial-information-regulation-bill-2016>  last accessed 26 September 2016

[6]     id

[7]     See n 2, s. 15


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Posted in Bills

Geospatial Bill & How it does affect us?

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.