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Geo…Whaat?! Someone is Snooping …!

Geo…Whaat?! Someone is Snooping …!

Background

In May 2016, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India released draft regulations called – “The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016”.The main objective of the draft bill is to regulate the acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geographical information of India which is likely to affect the security, sovereignty and integrity of India and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto.

What is Geospatial information or data?

cameraData representing the location, size and shape of an object on the earth such as a building, lake, mountain or township.

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.

Therefore, geospatial analysis is the gathering, display and manipulation of imagery, GPS, satellite photography and historical data, described explicitly in terms of geographic coordinates or implicitly, in terms of a street address, postal code, or forest stand as they are applied to geographic models. Spatial data may also include attributes that provide more information about the entity that is being represented.

Object of drafting Geospatial regulations

The sole objective of these draft regulations is only to protect national security, sovereignty, safety and integrity of India. The intention is not to compromise the security of the country and its citizens at any cost.

flowchart

The regulations in a nutshell

In India, the Government has only recently released draft bills containing regulations governing the use of geospatial information or data. It is yet to become a law.

Simply put, the regulations contain provisions that make it mandatory for any individual / entity / organisation to take permission from the government before acquiring, distributing and publishing any geospatial information of India. Anything that involves use or depiction of any geographical information or location within the territorial boundaries of India requires the permission of the government. To this end, the Government proposes the establishment of a Security vetting Authority.

Security vetting Authority – Primary Role

The Security vetting authority (SVA) shall be created in accordance with the regulations. The primary role of the SVA shall be to ascertain and vet the requirements of the individual / entity / organisation seeking to use such geospatial information. To this end, it proposes:

      conducting sensitivity checks with respect to the technical & information contents and the target area in consonance with the provisions of the prevailing National Policies;
      It will check the content and data provided and make sure it is well within national policies and
    screening of the credentials of the end-users and end-use applications.

In other countries like the USA, there is law in place.  Government agencies use geospatial intelligence primarily for security and defence purpose.

(GeoINT) is intelligence derived from the analysis and exploitation of imagery and depicts physical and geographical features of various locations on earth.

On whom will this Bill have a bearing?

The bill / regulations shall directly impact any “individual” (defined in the Regulations to mean and include an individual, a company, a firm, a trust, an association of persons or a body of individuals, whether incorporated or not, every artificial juridical person, not falling within any of the preceding and any agency, office or branch owned or controlled by any of the above persons mentioned in the preceding clauses.)

The above definition covers almost the entire gamut of individuals and entities seeking location related Information and services.

A bird’s eye view of industries and sectors using location related services

Personal Use

GPS tracking, tagging photos on social media using location; travel blogs with pics etc.

Business Use

Logistics or courier industries tracking the movement of fleet or packages; urban mapping used in construction industry; mapping of wireless networks by service providers; transport apps, navigation apps etc.

Government Use

Natural resource mapping, mapping of areas, routes and places by government agencies in disaster management; wildlife conservation; preservation of world heritage sites.

The above mentioned is just a tip of the iceberg of industries and sectors that use geospatial information or data.

Penalty for usage of geospatial information

The regulations expressly state that any illegal acquisition of geospatial information of India and or using geospatial information of India will attract severe penalty ranging from Rs. 1 Crore to Rs. 100 Crore and or imprisonment of up to 7 years.

Similarly, any illegal dissemination, publication or distribution of geospatial information of India will attract severe penalty ranging from Rs. 10 lakhs to Rs. 100 Crore and or imprisonment of up to 7 years.

Conclusion

To the common man, the word “geospatial” information or data is relatively new. Nevertheless it seems to have a far reaching implication. Technology has become such an inseparable part of our daily life that it seems near impossible to obtain government permission to use location related information – be it booking a cab online or simply tagging a picture on social media.

Also the draft bill recognises that even the government requires the use of such imagery for various purposes. Despite that, Central government and State government agencies have not been brought under the purview of the Bill / regulations.

While the draft bill / Regulations are in the process of being circulated for improvisation to be made to the draft bill, it is widely believed that the regulations need to be fine-tuned. All geospatial information need not be viewed as compromising the national security. For instance, navigational maps or a plain Indian map need not considered on the same lines as that digital and satellite imagery of Uri where the counter surgical strikes were conducted by India. While the basic objective of the bill is commendable, lawmakers have to ensure that the draft bill be plugged of such loopholes to make it more effective.

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