The Indian government is working on a new mapping bill that will have serious consequences for companies providing mapping services in the country. Dubbed the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, the ruling aims to regulate mapping vendors like Google by forcing them to seek out a license from the newly-created Security Vetting Authority.

Google Maps

Here's the crux of the bill:

Any person who wants to acquire, disseminate, publish or distribute any geospatial information of India, may make an application alongwith requisite fees to the Security Vetting Authority for security vetting of such geospatial information and licence thereof to acquire, disseminate, publish or distribute such Geospatial Information in any electronic or physical form.

The bill comes on the heels of the terrorist attack on Pathankot airbase earlier this year. Speaking to Economic Times, unnamed government officials said:

Pathankot air base, which was recently attacked, can be seen on Google Maps. Terrorists plot strikes on sensitive targets studying Google Maps. 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.

We are not banning anyone from mapping India - only that the mapping has to be in line with Indian security considerations regarding sensitive installations and correct boundaries being depicted like not showing PoK and Arunachal Pradesh as out of India.

Under the new bill, the vetting authority will supply "security-vetted geospatial information" to all licensees, with any incorrect depiction by companies culminating to a fine of up to ₹100 crore ($15 million) and imprisonment for up to seven years.

As an alternative, BJP MP Tarun Vijay said that "patriotic Indians" should use the country's own Bhuvan mapping solution:

Why do we need Google? We should stop becoming Google's instruments. The patriotic government of Narendra Modi has taken a right step in a big relief to the security establishment. UPA did not take any action despite my pleas to the then Defence Minister AK Antony. I congratulate the Modi government for showing spine in face of arrogance of these IT giants. Google has been behaving as if it were above Indian law.

The reasoning behind the bill — to show "India's true borders" and prevent listing of sensitive government installations — makes sense, but the government is failing to see the big picture. Even if the ruling were to go into effect in India, it would only prevent citizens in the country from accessing the data, as there would be no way for the government to enforce the bill outside the country's borders. That doesn't mean it's not trying:

No person shall in any manner make use of, disseminate, publish or distribute any geospatial information of India, outside India, without prior permission from the Security Vetting Authority.

So, if Google Maps had to show India's geospatial data outside the country, it would still need a license from the Security Vetting Authority. The bill also does not take into account the millions of apps that leverage geospatial information. Every time you check in to Facebook, send your location on WhatsApp, or call an Uber to your address, you're acquiring geospatial data. There's no mention as to how the government would enforce the ruling in these scenarios.

Thankfully, the bill is currently in a draft stage, and the government is seeking comments. If you're an Indian resident, head to the link below to read more on the subject and share your thoughts.

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