Mapping The Contours Of The New Geospatial Guidelines On India – Privacy – India

Mapping The Contours Of The New Geospatial Guidelines On India – Privacy – India

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Introduction:

Better maps have been touted as the key to unlocking India’s
digital economy1, and according to the Minister of
Science and Technology, the recently launched Geospatial Guidelines
have the potential to enable an INR 1 lakh crore rupees2
industry in India. This post examines the Geospatial Guidelines and
highlights the key implications of this policy on opening up the
otherwise restricted industries dependent on mapping data.

Overview of existing mapping regulations in India:

In the past, regulation of mapping data has largely been about
restricting the power to make maps and licensing their use from a
government agency.

For example, the National Map Policy, 2005 (“Map
Policy
“) gave these powers to the Survey of
India3. The Survey of India maintains the National
Topographic Database (“NTDB”); which
formed the basis of all geospatial activity in India4.
The Map Policy defined two kinds of maps- Defense Series Maps and
Open Series Maps5. Defense Series Maps are classified
maps created and monitored by the Ministry of Defense
(“MoD“). Open Series Maps are made by
the Survey of India to help with developmental activities. Open
Series Maps6, including general location data (e.g.,
latitudinal and longitudinal location of places),
communications/roads, administrative boundaries (e.g., boundaries
of villages), hydrology (e.g., canals and waterways), vegetation,
forestry, transmission lines, relief/hypsography (e.g., contours,
formations), and settlement and cultural details (e.g., villages,
religious places).

Entities seeking access to Open Series Maps required a one-time
clearance from the MoD7. The Survey of India licenses
the use of digital maps to interested entities8.
Additionally, the Map Policy prohibited the export of all
maps/digital data in 1: 250K and larger scales through any
means9.

After the Map Policy, a Civil Aviation Requirement was released
in 2010. It required entities undertaking aerial
photography/geophysical surveys10 and cloud
seeding11 to get prior approval from the Directorate
General of Civil Aviation, and a no-objection certificate from the
MoD.

This was followed by the Remote Sensing Data Policy,
201112 of the Department of Space. It was released to
harness remote sensing data for development activities and to
address national security concerns. The National Remote Sensing
Centre were given the power to obtain and disseminate, remote
sensing data from foreign and Indian entities13.

In 2016, a Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016, was
introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs to regulate the use of
geospatial information in India14. Since this Bill was
introduced in the backdrop of the Pathankot attack of
2016,15 it heavily prioritized national security
interests in allowing the use of geospatial information. 
Under this Bill, the approval of a ‘Security Vetting
Authority’ was needed to:

  • Acquire geospatial information16

  • Publish and disseminate geospatial information on internet
    services and online platforms17

  • Disseminate, publish and distribute geospatial information
    outside India.

The Geospatial Guidelines, 2021:

The latest guidelines to regulate the use of geospatial/digital
mapping data (“Geospatial Guidelines”) were released by
the Department of Science and Technology
(‘DST‘)18 on February 15,
202119.

The key changes brought by the Geospatial Guidelines
include:

  1. Definitions: Geospatial data has been defined
    as positional data (i.e., latitudinal and longitudinal
    data)20 as images, videos, vectors, voxel, and/or raster
    datasets or any other type of geospatial dataset, whether in
    digitized or non-digitized form or web-services21. The
    positional data can include ‘attribute data’, which is any
    data that gives additional meaning to the positional
    data22. For example, the exact geographic coordinates of
    a restaurant are positional data, while data on its display board,
    occupants, and timings are attribute data.

  2. Removal of licensing/approval requirements:
    Licensing requirements, like the ones seen in the earlier policies,
    have been removed23.

  3. Thresholds: The ordinary threshold
    (“threshold value”) for on-site spatial accuracy has been
    set at 1-meter horizontal resolution and 3-meters for
    vertical24. These thresholds are used to define the
    scope of permissible activities for Indian and foreign entities
    under the Geospatial Guidelines, as discussed below in paragraph H.
    The effect of relying on these thresholds is that the Government
    has classified geospatial data into – the normal class,
    which is data that can be collected by anyone, and the
    controlled class, which is data that can only be collected
    by certain entities and whose collection is dependent on what the
    Government allows.

  4. Considerations for sensitive attribute data:
    The DST will notify a ‘negative list of sensitive
    attributes’ (‘sensitive attributes’),
    after stakeholder consultations. The DST will constitute a
    Geospatial Data Promotion and Development Committee to manage
    stakeholder consultations and promote activities under the
    Geospatial Guidelines25. The use and acquisition of
    attributes in this list would be regulated by the DST26.
    The DST will utilize this list of sensitive attributes to oversee
    the controlled class of data, by determining who can
    collect it, and to what extent.

  5. Handling sensitive attributes: There will be
    different regulations and threshold limits for data collection for
    sensitive attributes27.

  6. Storage and processing of geospatial data:
    Geospatial data/maps using data points from the controlled
    class28 must be stored and processed in India.

  7. Export of geospatial data: Geospatial data in
    the normal class can be ‘exported’ outside India. Sensitive
    attribute data included in the negative list cannot be
    exported29.

  8. The difference in permissible activities for Indian
    entities30 and non-Indian entities:











Activity

Indian Entity

Non-Indian Entity

Acquisition, collection, and use of geospatial data, maps &
spatial accuracy (with due consideration for attributes in negative
lists)31.

Yes

Yes

Ground truthing/verification, access to Indian ground stations,
and augmentation services for real-time
positioning32.

Yes  

No.

However, the non-Indian entity can33:

– License from Indian Entities only to serve their customers in
India.

– Access only available through APIs that prevent the passing of
Maps/Geospatial Data through Licensee Company or its servers.

– Re-use or resale of map data by licensees is prohibited.

Terrestrial Mobile Mapping survey, Street View survey, and
surveying in Indian territorial waters34.

Yes  

No.

However, the non-Indian entity can35:

– License from Indian Entities only to serve their customers in
India.

– Access only available through APIs that prevent the passing of
Maps/Geospatial Data through Licensee Company or its servers.

– Re-use or resale of map data by licensees is prohibited.

Own/create maps, geospatial data of any value finer than the
threshold36(controlled 
class).

Yes

No.

However, the non-Indian entity can37:

– License from Indian Entities only to serve their customers in
India.

– Access only available through APIs that prevent the passing of
Maps/Geospatial Data through Licensee Company or its servers.

– Re-use or resale of map data by licensees is prohibited.

Implications of the Geospatial Guidelines on Industries
relying on map technology:

A. Implications on the use of mapping
technology in India:

There has been a shift in the approach to regulating access to
geospatial data, from a how approach to a what
approach. This means that the Government will no longer regulate
how interested entities can access geospatial data, but
what classes of geospatial data they can access and in
what scenarios. This decentralized approach is more dynamic and
will help account for the use of technology as it advances in its
capabilities. The negative list on sensitive attributes can be
updated periodically, based on factors such as technological
advancements.

Remote sensing technologies today are highly sophisticated. They
can involve a drone taking numerous high-resolution photos of an
area and aggregating them to create a 3D map of the area. Better
accuracy can enable access to information such as the precise
volume analysis of a body of water38. This is where the
Geospatial Guidelines play an interesting role. By relying on a
list of sensitive attributes, the DST will regulate what
geospatial data can be captured and used, as opposed to regulating
whether geospatial data can be captured and used at all. This means
that the Geospatial Guidelines can impact the level of detail of
the maps produced by a non-Indian entity, if they don’t partner
with an Indian entity.

However, the use
of sensitive attributes with different thresholds and regulations
may not impact commercial operations. Thresholds and regulations of
sensitive attributes will impact the levels of detail a map can
have. In an interview, Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST, indicated
that the negative list will not be longer than necessary and that
the list would not exclude sensitive areas, merely some of its
attributes. So, the area itself will be visible on the map but not
closely identifiable39.

B. Implications on business operations:

It is hard to imagine food aggregators and e-marketplace
delivery services needing maps with details such as the precise
volume analysis of a body of water. However, Indian entities can
still have such detail if they meet the criteria provided by the
DST. Non-Indian entities can continue using their mapping
technologies through appropriate arrangements with Indian entities
to serve Indian users by using APIs.

A list of sensitive attributes and their respective thresholds
and regulations can help protect defense and national security
interests as well. For example, in the United States, the
Geospatial Data Act, 2018, explicitly mentions that geospatial data
will exclude ‘classified data’, which is data inaccessible
to the public as decided by the relevant US government departments.
This includes the Department of Energy and Department of Defense,
among others40. The recently released Geospatial
Guidelines suggest a more nuanced approach to this challenge, as
demonstrated by the DST Secretary’s statements. Sensitive areas
will be visible on maps with variance in the level of detail.

This “how” not “what”
approach of the Geospatial Guidelines also means that different
maps will be used by different sectors. The maps used by logistics
and e-commerce platforms, for example, will differ from the maps
used by ocean exploration and mining because the threshold levels
of the sensitive attributes could be differently notified across
these sectors. Ocean exploration and mining require more accurate
and vivid imaging and mapping, whereas logistics and e-commerce may
not require such accuracy.

C. Implications on data protection:

Geospatial mapping is a large data-gathering exercise whose
precision depends on the quality of technology used and the
intended use of the data points slated for collection. It almost
harkens Orwellian Big Brother images and the Cold War-era spy
satellite surveillance stories, resulting in data protection
concerns. The sophistication of the technology will determine just
how much data belonging to human beings and their daily living is
collected. Other countries have also faced this conundrum, with
Germany even banning Google Street View because of privacy
concerns41. On the contrary, the European Union
regulates geospatial data as a public good and high-value data
set42.

India is currently in the process of finalizing its personal
data protection law. A committee appointed by the Indian government
has also proposed a framework to govern non-personal data.
Depending on whether it qualifies as personal data (for example, in
the case of an individual’s address) or non-personal data (for
example, a map depicting the forest cover of a specific region in
India), geospatial data could also be subject to additional
data-specific regulations in India.

The Geospatial Guidelines briefly address data privacy concerns
by mandating that geospatial data that is of finer value than the
prescribed thresholds, be stored in India; and by ensuring that
this finer value geospatial data only be collected by Indian
entities. However, entities can export geospatial data that is
within the threshold (‘normal class’) and excludes
sensitive attributes. Ensuring privacy in the case of exportation
will determine largely on the sensitive attributes list, their
thresholds, and regulations.

Conclusion:

The Geospatial Guidelines are a policy shift from the
licensing-based regulation of the use of geospatial data, to the
regulation of what geospatial data can be used not
how; the aim being to boost map-reliant commercial
operations in India. The Geospatial Guidelines match statements
made by various Government officials on this goal, enabling safe
use of geospatial technology, and taking into consideration data
protection and national security.

Footnotes

1 https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/sme/mapping-policy-we-wont-have-to-depend-on-google-maps-says-mohandas-pai-as-govt-puts-startups-on-the-map/2195316/

2 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/sweeping-changes-in-indias-geospatial-data-policy-to-unlock-value-of-rs-1-lakh-crore/unlocking-rs-1-lakh-crore/slideshow/81049416.cms

3 Para 1, National Map Policy, 2005 (Available at: https://surveyofindia.gov.in/documents/national-map-policy.pdf)

4 Para 2, National Map Policy, 2005

5 Para 3, National Map Policy, 2005 (available at: https://surveyofindia.gov.in/documents/national-map-policy.pdf)

6 Para 2(c), Guidelines for Implementing National Map
Policy, 2005 (available: https://www.surveyofindia.gov.in/files/nmp/Guidlines%20for%20Implementing%20National%20Map%20policy.pdf)

7 Para 3(a), National Map Policy, 2005 (available at: https://surveyofindia.gov.in/documents/national-map-policy.pdf)

8 Para 4, Guidelines for Implementing National Map
Policy, 2005 at p. 2

9 Para 2(d), Guidelines for Implementing National Map
Policy, 2005

10 Para 6, Office of the Director General of Civil
Aviation, Civil Aviation Requirement: Requirements for Issue of
Non-Scheduled Flight Clearances and Enrolment of a Flight Clearance
Agency, October 12, 2010 [F. No. 14015/gen/2006-at1] (Available at:
http://164.100.60.133/misc/draft%20cars/D3F-F1(Draft_Sept2017).pdf)

11 Para 7, Office of the Director General of Civil
Aviation, Civil Aviation Requirement: Requirements for Issue of
Non-Scheduled Flight Clearances and Enrolment of a Flight Clearance
Agency, October 12, 2010 [F. No. 14015/gen/2006-at1] (Available at:
http://164.100.60.133/misc/draft%20cars/D3F-F1(Draft_Sept2017).pdf)

12 Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011 (Available at: https://www.isro.gov.in/indias-space-policy-0)

13 Para 2(b), Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011 (Available
at: https://www.isro.gov.in/indias-space-policy-0)

14 Draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016 -
“A Bill to regulate the acquisition, dissemination,
publication and distribution of geospatial information of India
which is likely to affect the security, sovereignty and integrity
of India”
(available at: https://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/draft/Draft%20Geospatial%20Bill,%202016.pdf).

15
https://thewire.in/government/controversial-geospatial-bill-snowballed-shoved-cold-storage

16 Clause 3, Draft Geospatial Information Regulation
Bill, 2016,

17 Clause 4, Draft Geospatial Information Regulation
Bill, 2016,

18 The Government of India (Allocation of Business)
Rules, 1961 at p.146 – The Department of Science and Technology
(DST) has powers to regulate geographical
information systems, the national spatial data infrastructure.
(Available at: https://cabsec.gov.in/writereaddata/allocationbusinessrule/completeaobrules/english/1_Upload_2724.pdf)

19 Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data
and Geospatial Data Services including Maps, F.No.SM/25/02/2020
(Part-I) dated 15th February, 2021 (available at: https://dst.gov.in/sites/default/files/Final%20Approved%20Guidelines%20on%20Geospatial%20Data.pdf

20 Paras 7(a): “Latitude, longitude and
elevation/depth of a point or its x, y & z co-ordinates in the
territory of the Republic of India.”
, Geospatial
Guidelines, 2021

21 Para 7(c), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

22 Para 7(b), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

23 Para 8(ii)(1), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

24 Para 8(iv)(a)(1), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021: 1.
On-site spatial accuracy shall be one meter for horizontal or
Planimetry and three meters for vertical or Elevation. 2. Gravity
anomaly shall be 1 milli-gal. 3. Vertical accuracy of Bathymetric
data in Territorial Waters shall be 10 meters for up to 500 meters
from the shore-line and 100 meters beyond that.

25 Para 8(iii)(c), Geospatial Guidelines,
2021

26 Para 8(iii)(a), Geospatial Guidelines,
2021

27 Para 8(iv)(a), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

28 Para 8(ix), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

29 Para 8(x) Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

30 Para 7(f), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021:
Any Indian citizen, Government entities, Societies
registered under applicable statutes, statutory bodies, Autonomous
Institutions of the Government, or any Indian company or Indian LLP
owned by resident Indian citizens or any Indian company or Indian
LLP controlled by resident Indian citizens (as defined in the
Explanation to Rule 23 of the Foreign Exchange Management (Non-Debt
Instrument) Rules, 2019).”

31 Para 8(v), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

32 Para 8(vi)(a), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

33 Para 8(viii), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

34 Para 8(b), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

35 Para 8(viii), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

36 Para 8(vii), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

37 Para 8(viii), Geospatial Guidelines, 2021

38 https://wingtra.com/drone-photogrammetry-vs-lidar/

39 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/we-have-not-restricted-anyone-from-procuring-what-is-easily-available-ashutosh-sharma/articleshow/81128238.cms

40 Geospatial Data Act, 2018, https://www.fgdc.gov/gda/43-usc-ch-46-geospatial-data-geospatial-data-act.pdf

41 https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/germany-street-view

42 EU Directive – “On open data and the re-use of
public sector information”, DIRECTIVE (EU) 2019/1024 OF THE
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 June 2019, (available
at:
https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32019L1024&from=EN#d1e1259-56-1
)

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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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