Maps of Google and other services could require security clearance in India

The companies could face large fines for breaches of proposed new rules

New rules proposed by the Indian government would require Google and other mapping services to submit their maps for security clearance before distributing them online or offline.

The move appears to reflect the Indian government's concern that the maps could expose defense installations and other high-security areas.

The government is also apparently concerned that its international boundaries with Pakistan and China, both countries with which it has border disputes, are represented in the way the country recognizes them.

The rules could, however,  put obstacles in the way of companies and organizations that crowdsource their maps or modify their maps frequently, as those changes too would appear to require security clearances from the government, according to analysts.

India has always been sensitive about the collection of imagery by Internet companies. In 2005, the then Indian president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, criticized Google Earth and other online satellite mapping services for exposing sensitive installations in developing countries to terrorists. Some map services like Google's have tried to blur  certain sensitive locations by presenting them at low-resolution at the request of the government, according to sources close to the situation.

But Google's Street View cars were stopped from collecting data in Bangalore in 2011, even after getting official permission and promising to blur sensitive data, apparently reflecting concerns about the exposure of certain locations on the street images.

The proposed Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016 requires that any person who intends to collect "geospatial imagery or data including value addition of any part of India" through terrestrial vehicles or any space or aerial platforms such as satellites, aircraft, airships, balloons, and drones will require the permission of a Security Vetting Authority appointed by the federal government.

Organizations that have already collected mapping data would have to submit their maps within one year to the vetting authority for getting a license to retain the information after paying a fee. Clearance of the authority will also be required for the online and offline dissemination of the maps, which could bring under the purview of this rule a variety of apps including those of ride-hailing companies and location-based services that use maps.

The permissions would apply to the online or offline distribution of the maps outside the country as well. Companies like Google, for example, currently present different international boundaries on maps to users in India and abroad to assuage local sensitivities.

Google said it was reviewing the draft rules.

The new rules would, if approved by the government, impose stiff fines of up to 1 billion rupees (US$15 million) and/or up to seven years of imprisonment on people who break the rules. Penalties can be appealed before an appellate authority and in some cases also before the High Court. The Ministry of Home Affairs has asked for comments within 30 days.

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John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
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