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India Seeks to Limit Use of Maps and Satellite Images

The proposed law could also affect ordinary people using mobiles to send photos, hailing cabs or anything that involves geospatial data. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
India Seeks to Limit Use of Maps and Satellite Images
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Indians are discussing a plan to ban use of maps or satellite images of the country without approval from the government.

The plan’s critics have launched an online campaign called “Save The Map.” They say the proposed ban could affect many new businesses and services that use technology.

The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill would require anyone who wants to use, publish or own maps or geospatial data to seek official permission. A special security committee would consider such requests.

Indian officials say the proposed law would help protect military bases from enemies and terrorists. They deny it would cause problems for businesses.

But Internet experts say the law would affect anyone who uses mobile phones, laptop computers and online companies, such as ride services. They also fear that the ban would affect computer software programs and Apple or Google Map products.

The Center for Internet and Society (CIS) in Bangalore also has criticized the bill. It says the measure would return India to where it was more than 30 years ago -- when businesses were forced to get licenses from government officials before they could begin to operate. Pranesh Prakash works at the center.

“What it does (is) it puts in place a license raj for all use of mapping technologies. That just does not make sense. No other country in the world has this regressive mapping law.”

Technology experts from Bangalore launched the “Save The Map” campaign. It is calling on Indians to demand that the government change the planned law. The campaign is hoping to copy a successful campaign called “Save The Internet,” which pressured the government to ensure equal access to the Internet.

Indian officials have sought to calm critics, saying the bill is not final. The government has asked people to give ideas on how it should be changed by June 4.

Officials note the country is dealing with an increasing number of security issues, including an attack at an air base in northern India earlier this year. Terrorists based in Pakistan were said to have carried out the attack.

Junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju told a newspaper that the law is needed because India must have ways to “secure its boundary and territory.”

But Prakash notes that the measure would not stop terrorists from using geospatial data from sources outside India.

“They need satellite imagery and they need maps, period. Now this law doesn’t actually prevent such maps from being created, it doesn’t actually prevent satellite images of India being captured. What it does is prevent Indians from doing so. So it actually won’t prevent foreign-based terrorists -- especially state-backed terrorists -- from attacking India.”

Internet and policy experts say the government would not be able to stop others from creating maps or satellite images of sensitive locations in the country.

I’m Anne Ball.

Anjana Pasricha reported this story from New Delhi for Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

geospatial – adj. land-based location information

data – n. (plural) facts or information used usually to calculate, analyze, or plan something

raj – n. ruler

regress – v. to return to an earlier and usually worse or less developed condition or state

access – n. a way of getting near, at or to something or someone