India's Proposed 'Geospatial Information Regulation Bill' Would Shut Down Most Map-Based Services There

from the who-knew-geography-was-so-exciting? dept

It's obvious that technology changes our lives, but alongside the expected developments, there are some strange and unexpected ones, too. For example, half a century ago, who would have predicted that boring old copyright would have such a massive impact on everyday life, even to the extent of redefining what ownership means? Similarly, when mobile phones first appeared, few realized later iterations that included powerful computers would elevate another dry and dusty area -- cartography -- into a key aspect of modern technology. And just as copyright already has unavoidable implications for personal agency, so cartography is beginning to impact political power. That can be clearly seen in Indian proposals for a new law, summarized here by The Next Web:

The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill (PDF), which is currently only a draft and is open to feedback until June 4, will make it illegal to publish map-related information or even share location data without a license from a government vetting agency. Those found violating its rules will face a fine of at least Rs. 10 million (roughly $150,000), going up to Rs. 1 billion (about $15 million) along with imprisonment for up to seven years.
As an Indian government official told the Economic Times, the main impulse behind the new legislation is national security, especially when foreign mapping services are involved:
"Our plea to black out sensitive installations do not yield results. This Bill is now sending a strong message that US companies cannot be running roughshod over Indian security interests."
Another key concern for the Indian government is making sure that all maps conform to its view of "correct" international boundaries where there are territorial disputes, for example in Kashmir. Those kinds of issues are nothing new; the problem here is the extremely broad reach of the proposed law. Here's the definition of the kind of mapping data that will require a license to collect and publish:
"Geospatial Information" means geospatial imagery or data acquired through space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles including value addition; or graphical or digital data depicting natural or man-made physical features, phenomenon or boundaries of the earth or any information related thereto including surveys, charts, maps, terrestrial photos referenced to a co-ordinate system and having attributes
At first glance that might seem to apply only to big companies using sophisticated mapping techniques. But elsewhere the Bill says that, without a license:
no person shall acquire geospatial imagery or data including value addition of any part of India either through any space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles or terrestrial vehicles, or any other means whatsoever.
That would appear to rule out even non-commercial projects like OpenStreetMap, which builds maps from information gathered by thousands of volunteers as they move around locations. It gets worse: as a post on Medianama points out, the requirement for all geospatial mapping data to be vetted by a special government security agency means that it will be impossible to offer maps that use real-time information. That would therefore exclude all the most innovative mobile services that provide information that is constantly updated. In fact, the proposal is drafted so broadly it is hard to see how any useful service can be offered if it becomes law. Mishi Choudhary, legal director at Software Freedom Law Centre in India, is quoted by the Economic Times as saying:
"On the face of it, the Bill will kill any and every use of the maps. It is also unclear if you get a licence for maps, only you can use it or others can use it, too."
Throttling innovation in this way was surely not the Indian government's intention when it wrote this draft, and it seems almost certain that the text will undergo major refinements before it begins its journey through the legislative process. A site called savethemap.in has been set up to help people submit responses to the government consultation on the proposals. Whatever the final outcome, this episode illustrates well just how important and sensitive digital maps have become -- and just how hard it will be to regulate them sensibly.

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  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 3:31am

    Wait a second...

    "no person shall acquire geospatial imagery or data including value addition of any part of India either through any space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles or terrestrial vehicles, or any other means whatsoever."

    That doesn't seem to be aimed entirely at Google Maps. That reads to me as if someone going on the internet and looking at Google Earth without a license from the government would be subject to a Rs. 10,000,000 fine every time they visited the site.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 3:55am

    (Un)Intended comsequences?

    Are they just about to outlaw dashcams?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Hephaestus (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 8:50am

      Re: (Un)Intended comsequences?

      This is actually Crony Capitalism at its best. They are outlawing GPS systems, and systems built into GPS systems for mapping traffic flow and the like.

      The reason for this is the new GPS satellite system that India just got up and running.

      The probable outcome is only GPS systems built in India will be allowed in India. (i.e. they are funneling money to locally politically connected corporations and individuals)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        seedeevee (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 9:19am

        Re: Re: (Un)Intended comsequences?

        The Indians did not want Satellite TV service either. Until an Indian satellite could do the job.

        Democracy. What can you do about it?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 4:15am

    Information

    In the big picture, this is yet another example of government desire to limit and control information available to the people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 4:33am

    terrestrial photos referenced to a co-ordinate system and having attributes


    Well there goes every phone camera.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AL BAKER, 11 May 2016 @ 4:43am

    Data?

    Does the receiving of GPS signals on your SatNav count as "geospatial data" from a "satellite"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 4:51am

    Waze would be in trouble. May as well just scrawl uncharted territory over the sub continent and label avoid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 5:40am

    Question:

    Once I thought I knew the answer to be negative, that is a citizen of a country could not be prostituted by a foreign country for an action in one's own country but now I am not sure.

    As a US citizen living in the US accessing a Google map looking at India am I guilty of violating Indian law?

    If this is indeed the case, even though there is almost no chance of being prosecuted especially if I never go to India, the law implications are staggering.

    One could prosecuted for any action one made or did not make or planed to make or did not plan to make at any time past present or future by any country under any system or non system or law or whim.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 6:51am

      Re:

      So, welcome to the club? Non-US residents have been concerned about the US's attempts to enforce its laws on people in other countries for a long time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 6:55am

      Re:

      > As a US citizen living in the US accessing a Google map looking at India am I
      > guilty of violating Indian law?


      India would say yes, but the practical reality is that they can't do anything to citizens of other countries. Their law is unenforceable outside India.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        seedeevee (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 9:22am

        Re: Re:

        Would you say that US laws are unenforceable outside of the US? Or just that Indians are just more inept?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          btr1701 (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 9:44am

          Re: Re: Re:

          > Would you say that US laws are unenforceable outside of the US? Or just that
          > Indians are just more inept?

          More like the governments of other countries are spineless and roll over for the U.S. instead of protecting their citizens like they're supposed to.

          The reason India's law is unenforceable here in the U.S. is that the U.S. won't allow it to be. If other countries grew a pair and said the same to U.S. authorities when they try legislating for the world, their people would be much better off.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 10:38am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            If other countries grew a pair and said the same to U.S. authorities when they try legislating for the world, their people would be much better off.

            Guess which country uses universal and total surveillance so it can keep anybody who might offer resistance to their rule out of office>.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 7:00am

      Re:

      > If this is indeed the case, even though there is almost no chance of being
      > prosecuted especially if I never go to India, the law implications are
      > staggering.

      This is hardly the first time this kind of issue has come up.

      In most countries in Europe, Holocaust denial and publication of Nazi symbols and imagery is illegal. In the earliest days of the public internet, various prosecutors in Germany and France attempted to shut down US websites that violated their anti-Nazi laws and/or prosecute their owners. Since that sort of thing is squarely 1st Amendment protected speech in the US, the European prosecutors were never successful and they've basically just learned to live with the fact that Americans can put Nazi stuff on the internet with impunity and their only recourse is to block those sites from access within Germany, France, etc.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 11 May 2016 @ 8:01pm

        Re: the European prosecutors were never successful

        Conversely, US prosecutors were successful in shutting down iCraveTV, a Canadian-based Internet business.

        Does Internet law equate to US law?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 5:54am

    Doesn't apply to OpenStreetMap

    The great thing about projects like openstreetmap.org is that even in places where mapmaking is illegal or regulated (China, South Korea) there are always people willing to improve and add more detail to the map.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 6:34am

      Re: Doesn't apply to OpenStreetMap

      Are you saying the law won't apply because people will break the law? I'm not sure that's how the law works.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 6:47am

        Re: Re: Doesn't apply to OpenStreetMap

        Exactly. Laws are nothing without enforcement.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 6:50am

        Re: Re: Doesn't apply to OpenStreetMap

        I think he's saying that civil disobedience exists and people are willing to break the law for the greater good.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        btr1701 (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 6:53am

        Re: Re: Doesn't apply to OpenStreetMap

        This law won't apply to any company that has no physical presence in India. If I acquire and publish satellite imagery of India from my office in California, India can't do anything to me. In fact, it's 1st Amendment protected speech.

        That's what's ironic about the whole thing. India claims it's doing this for national security reasons, but this law won't do anything to stop foreigners outside India's borders-- people who are most likely to be a security concern to India-- from creating and analyzing overhead images and maps of India.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 11:29am

          Re: Re: Re: Doesn't apply to OpenStreetMap

          This law won't apply to any company that has no physical presence in India.

          India might disagree with you.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            btr1701 (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 2:10pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Doesn't apply to OpenStreetMap

            > India might disagree with you.

            India is free to try to do something about it, then.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 7:05pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Doesn't apply to OpenStreetMap

              "India is free to try to do something about it, then."

              I suspect you wouldn't go to India and say that.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                btr1701 (profile), 12 May 2016 @ 8:04am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Doesn't apply to OpenStreetMap

                > > "India is free to try to do something about it, then."

                > I suspect you wouldn't go to India and say that.

                Umm... that's kinda the whole point. As long as I'm not in India, they can't do shit to me.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2016 @ 6:54am

        Re: Re: Doesn't apply to OpenStreetMap

        OpenStreetMap is based in the UK, thus not subject to Indian law. The data is open so anyone could fork it and setup an alternative in any country they wish.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 6:48am

    Maps

    The new map of India:

    http://static.tumblr.com/29d4a21c9c79860b66ef859f2145ffff/hfchzs1/QKKmnf5br/tumblr_static_here -be-dragons.jpg

    Reason number 4,296 why everyone in the US should be damn grateful for the 1st Amendment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 7:03am

    The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill

    "You are in violation of the GERBIL act of 2016..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 7:47am

    I have to wonder how that will affect the aeronautics industry, including its impact on flight simulation and training. Databases are updated constantly, and a lot of them include satellite photos. Especially in simulation (you don't need to fake the environment you're flying in when you're really flying in it). But nav databases include accurate, up-to-date geospatial information, and critically so.

    (Also, "phenomenon" is singular; whomever wrote that paragraph wants "phenomena".)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 11 May 2016 @ 8:45am

    And they had just made such a huge deal of putting up their own geolocation satellites (NAVIC). Whatevs, guys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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