Comments on the National Geospatial Policy (Draft, V.1.0), 2016

The Department of Science and Technology published the first public draft of the National Geospatial Policy (v.1.0) on May 05, 2016, and invited comments from the public. CIS submitted the following comments in response. The comments were authored by Adya Garg, Anubha Sinha, and Sumandro Chattapadhyay.

 

1. Preliminary

1.1. This submission presents comments and recommendations by the Centre for Internet and Society ("CIS") on the proposed draft of the National Geospatial Policy 2016 ("the draft Policy / the draft NGP") [1]. This submission is based on Version 1.0 of the draft Policy released by the Department of Science and Technology ("DST") on May 5, 2016.

1.2. CIS commends the DST under the aegis of the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, for its efforts at seeking inputs from various stakeholders to draft a National Geospatial Policy. CIS is thankful for this opportunity to provide a clause-by-clause submission.

2. The Centre for Internet and Society

2.1. The Centre for Internet and Society, CIS, [2] is a non-profit organisation that undertakes interdisciplinary research on internet and digital technologies from policy and academic perspectives. The areas of focus include digital accessibility for persons with diverse abilities, access to knowledge, intellectual property rights, openness (including open data, free and open source software, open standards, open access, open educational resources, and open video), internet governance, telecommunication reform, digital privacy, and cyber-security. The academic research at CIS seeks to understand the reconfiguration of social processes and structures through the internet and digital media technologies, and vice versa.

2.2. This submission is consistent with CIS’ commitment to safeguarding general public interest, and the interests and rights of various stakeholders involved. The comments in this submission aim to further the principle of citizens’ right to information, instituting openness-by-default in governmental activities, and the various kinds of public goods that can emerge from greater availability of open (geospatial) data created by both public and private agencies and crucially, by the citizens. The submission is limited to those clauses that most directly have an impact on these principles.

3. Comments and Recommendations

This section presents comments and recommendations directed at the draft policy as a whole, and in certain places, directed at specific clauses of the draft policy.

3.1. The draft policy should make references to five policies applicable to geospatial data, products, services, and solutions

3.1.1. CIS observes that the draft policy lists the key policies related to geospatial information and sharing of government data, namely the National Map Policy 2005, the Civil Aviation Requirement 2012, the Remote Sensing Data Policy 2011 and 2012, and the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy 2012 (“NDSAP”).

3.1.2. CIS submits that apart from the policies mentioned above, Geospatial Data,Products, Services and Solutions (“GDPSS”) are also intricately linked to concepts of “open standards,” “open source software,” “open API,” “right to information,” and prohibited places” These concepts are governed by specific acts and policies, and are applicable to geospatial data, as follows:

  • Adoption of Open Standards: CIS observes that the draft policy captures the importance of open standards in the section 1.4 of the draft policy. It states that “A very high resolution and highly accurate framework to function as a national geospatial standard for all geo-referencing activity through periodically updated National Geospatial Frame [NGF] and National Image Frame [NIF] by ensuring open standards based seamless interoperable geospatial data.”

    CIS submits that the Policy on Open Standards for e-Governance [3] which establishes the Guidelines for usage of open standards to ensure seamless interoperability, and the Implementation Guidelines of the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy, 2012 [4] listing two key open standards for geospatial data - KML and GML, should be mentioned in the draft policy.

    CIS recommends that the final version of the NGP embrace open standards as a key principle of all software projects and infrastructures within the purview of the Policy. This is essential for easier sharing and reuse of open (geospatial) data.

  • Adoption of Open Source Software: The Policy on Adoption of Open Source Software for Government of India states that the “Government of India shall endeavour to adopt Open Source Software in all e-Governance systems implemented by various Government organisations, as a preferred option in comparison to Closed Source Software” [5]. As the draft policy proposed to guide the development of GDPSS being developed and implemented both by the Government of India and by other agencies (academic, commercial, and otherwise), it must include an explicit reference and embracing of this mandate for adoption of Open Source Software, for reasons of reducing expenses, avoiding vendor lock-ins, re-usability of software components, enabling public accountability, and greater security of software systems.

  • Implementation of Open APIs: To actualise the stated principle to “[e]nable promotion, adoption and implementation of emerging / state of the art technologies” as well as to ensure the “[a]vailability of all geospatial data collected through public funded mechanism to all users,” CIS suggests that final version of the NGP must refer to and operationalise the Policy on Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for Government of India [6]. This will ensure that the openly available geospatial data is available to the public, as well as to all the government agencies, in a structured digital format that is easy to consume and use on one hand, and is available for various forms of value addition and innovation on the other.

  • Right to Information Act 2005: The framework for reactive disclosure of information and data collected and held by the Government of India, as well as the basis for proactive disclosure of the same, is enshrined in the Right to Information Act 2005 [7]. The draft NGP, CIS proposes, should refer to this Act, and ensure that whenever an Indian citizen request for such government data and/or information that is of geospatial in nature, and the requested data and/or information is both shareable and non-sensitive, the citizen must be provided with the geospatial data and/or information in an open standard and under open license, as applicable.

  • Refer to Official Secrets Act, 1923: The Official Secrets Act defines “Prohibited Places” and prohibits all activities involving “sketch, plan, model, or note which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be, directly; or indirectly, useful to an enemy or (c) obtains collects, records or publishes or communicates to any other person any secret official code or password, or any sketch, plan, model, article or note or other document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy” [8]. This provides the fundamental legal basis for regulation, expunging, and stopping circulation of geospatial data containing information about Vulnerable Points and Vulnerable Areas. CIS submits that this Act should be referred to in this context of ensuring non-publication of sensitive geospatial data (that is geospatial data related to Prohibited Places).

3.2. Grant adequate permissions to the public to re-use geospatial data

3.2.1. CIS observes that section 1.4 of the draft policy states that, “Geospatial data of any resolution being disseminated through agencies and service providers, both internationally and nationally be treated as unclassified and made available and accessible by Indian Mapping and imaging agencies.”

3.2.2. CIS recommends the abovementioned section be broadened to include not only availability and accessibility of geospatial data, but also its re-use. Further, such accessibility, availability and re-use should not be only limited to public and private entities such as Indian mapping and imaging agencies, but as well as to Indian people in general.

3.2.3. CIS further submits that section 1.4 be revised as “[g]eospatial data of any resolution being disseminated through agencies and service providers, both internationally and nationally be treated as unclassified and made available, accessible, and reusable by Indian mapping and imaging agencies in particular, and by the people of India in general.”

3.3. Ensure Open Access to shareable and non-sensitive geospatial data

3.3.1. CIS observes that the draft policy directs all “geospatial data generating agencies” to classify their data into “open access,” “registered access,” and “restricted access.” The document, however, neither defines “geospatial data generating agencies”, nor does it clarify what conditions the data must satisfy to be classified as one of the three types. Without a listing of such conditions (at least necessary, and not sufficient, conditions), nothing restricts the agencies from classifying all generated geospatial data as “restricted.”

3.3.2. Further, CIS observes that the draft policy aims to provide geospatial data acquired through public funded mechanism to be made available to the public at free of cost. It is submitted that the policy should not only be made available for free of cost, but it should also be made available in open standard format under an open license.

3.3.3. As defined in the section 1.3, the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (“NDSAP”) applies to “all shareable non-sensitive data available either in digital or analog forms but generated using public funds” [9]. Clearly all shareable [10] and non-sensitive [11] geospatial data, either in digital or analog forms, and generated using public funds should be proactively disclosed by the government agency concerns in accordance to the NDSAP. CIS recommends that the draft policy makes an explicit reference to NDSAP when discussing the topic of Open Access geospatial data, and re-iterates the mandate of proactive publication of shareable and non-sensitive government data.

3.3.4. Further, the process for defining an open government data license to be applied to all open government data sets being published under the NDSAP, and through the Open Government Data Platform India, is in progress. Given this, it is absolutely crucial important that the draft NGP takes this into consideration, and mandates that Open Access geospatial data must be published using the open government data license to be defined by the Implementation Guidelines of the NDSAP, when applicable.

3.4. Lack of clarity regarding the clearances and permits required for data acquisition and dissemination, and the procedures thereof

3.4.1. Section 1.8 of the draft policy states that “[a]ll clearances / permits, as necessary, for data acquisition and dissemination be through a single window, online portal. These clearances be provided within a time span of 30 days of filing the online request.” CIS observes that the draft policy does not specify the kind of clearances/permits needed before a public or private entity, or an individual, can undertake acquisition and dissemination of geospatial data. It neither clarifies under what circumstances and conditions application for such clearance / permits would be required for users.

3.4.2. Since the recently published draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill (“GIRB”) 2016, directly addresses this topic of clearance / permit required to acquire and share geospatial information [12], it will be effective if the NGP can refer to this Bill and provide an overall governance framework for the same. Further, CIS noted that the time span of 30 days mentioned in the draft policy is inconsistent with the time period specified in the GIRB (which is 90 days).

3.4.3. CIS recommends that the draft policy also be amended suitably to include the circumstances and conditions under which required permissions shall be issued. Accordingly, the draft policy should reference the standardised and time bound security vetting process envisaged in the GIRB.

3.5. Clarification Needed regarding “Cybersecurity is to be ensured through … use of Digital Watermarks for authentication of GDPSS”

3.5.1. CIS submits that the draft policy does not elaborate on the use of “Digital Watermarks” to ensure cybersecurity, neither it is explained who will authenticate GDPSS, under what conditions, and for what reasons. CIS recommends that the draft policy be amended suitably to specify the same.

3.6. Remove Classification of Non-Public (at Present) Satellite / Aerial Imagery as Restricted by Default

3.6.1. CIS observes that the draft policy recommends that “[s]atellite/aerial images of resolution other than those currently made available on websites” should all be “classified for restricted access.”

3.6.2. CIS submits that blanket categorisation of all satellite / aerial imagery of resolution that is not currently available through a public website (for whatever reason it might be) as “restricted access” should be re-evaluated, given the immense importance of such imagery to mapping agencies and industry participants using GDPSS.

3.6.3. CIS recommends that the section be revised to define clear principles for defining satellite /aerial imagery as “open,” “registered,” and “restricted.”

3.7. Governance of User-contributed Geospatial Data

3.7.1. A key resource and feature of contemporary geospatial industry in particular, and the digital economy in general, is the proliferation of user-contributed and user-generated geospatial data and information. CIS observes that this crucial topic, as well as the unique governance concerns that it raises, has not been addressed in the draft policy at all. CIS requests the DST to consider this matter with due attention to the specific nature and values of such user-contributed and user-generated in the digital economy on one hand, and in emergency contexts such as natural disasters on the other, and prepare a framework for its appropriate governance as part of the NGP itself.

3.8. Protect Geospatial Privacy of Citizens by Defining Sensitive Personal Geospatial Data and Information

3.8.1. CIS observes that the draft policy lacks rules for collection, use, storage, and distribution of geospatial data from an individual’s privacy standpoint. Further, neither does the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011 address these concerns [13]. Section 3 of the Rules define “Sensitive personal data or information”, which do not include geospatial information.

3.8.2. The argument of violation of constitutional right to privacy was pleaded in a case against Google and other private mapping agencies in 2008 [14]. In the judgment, Madras HIgh Court noted that there existed no legislation/guidelines to prohibit mapping programmes from conducting their activities indiscriminately, and the lack of one thereof prevented the Court from injuncting such activities. Thus, there exists a judicial ambiguity on the aspect of collection and use of geospatial data.

3.8.3. CIS submits that the draft policy may be suitably amended to ensure that collection, processing and dissemination of geospatial information is in consonance with the constitutionally protection of an individual’s privacy.

3.9. Clarification Needed regarding “Mechanisms to be put in place to evaluate / audit GDPSS creation, consumption and distribution”

3.9.1. The draft policy suggests that “mechanisms to be put in place to evaluate/audit GDPSS creation, consumption and distribution” without clarifying the scope, purpose, and purview of this mechanism, and most crucially it does not describe what exactly will be evaluated / audited. CIS submits that this section is revised and expanded.

3.9.2. The same section also identifies the need for a “framework to be put in place to assess the data collection versus its utilization towards government program and socio-economic development.” CIS observes that this is a very promising and much welcome gesture by the DST, but this section must be developed as a separate and detailed mandate. At the least, the NGP may suggest that a more detailed guideline document regarding this framework will be developed in near future.

3.10. Data Taxation and Geospatial Cess

3.10.1. The draft policy refers to imposition of “data taxation (geospatial cess)” and use of “licensing” of geospatial data to raise money for geospatial activities of the Government of India. CIS is of the opinion will severely affect the geospatial industry in the country in particular, and will raise the monetary barrier to public use of geospatial data and maps in general; and hence must be strictly avoided.

3.11. Data Dissemination Cell

3.11.1. CIS submits that instead of development of a separate Data Dissemination Cell within all government agencies to operationalise the mandate of the NGP, the Chief Data Officers within all government agencies identified under the implementation process of the NDSAP be given this complementary responsibility. This would ensure effective channelisation of human and financial resources to take forward the joint mandate of NGP and NDSAP towards greater public availability and use of (shareable and non-sensitive) government data.

3.12. Special Infrastructure for Governance, Management, and Publication of Real-time Geospatial Data

3.12.1. A key term that the draft policy does not talk about is “big data.” The static or much-slowly-changing geospatial data such as national boundaries and details of Vulnerable Points and Vulnerable Areas are really a very small part of of the global geospatial information. The much larger and crucial part is the real-time (that is continuously produced, stored, analysed, and used in almost real-time) big geospatial data – from geo-referenced tweets, to GPS systems of cars, to mobile phones moving through the cities and regions. Addressing such networked data systems, where all data collected by digital devices can quite easily be born-georeferenced, and the security and privacy concerns that are engendered by them, should be the ultimate purpose of, and challenge for, a future-looking NGP.

3.12.2. Further, with increasing number of government assets being geo-referenced for the purpose of more effective and real-time management, especially in the transportation sector, the corresponding agencies (which are often not mapping agencies) are acquiring a vast amount of high-velocity geospatial data, which needs to be analysed and (sometimes) published in the real-time. CIS submits a sincere request to DST to highlight the crucial need for special infrastructure for such data, as well as its governance, and identify the key principles concerned in the next version of the draft NGP.

3.13. Sincere Request for Preparation and Circulation of a Second Public Draft of the National Geospatial Policy

3.13.1. CIS commends the DST for publishing the draft policy, and facilitating a consultation process inviting stakeholders and civil society to submit feedback. The NGP envisages to address crucial concepts of privacy, licensing, intellectual property rights, liability, national security, open data, which cut across and impact various technology platforms, industries and the citizens.

3.13.2. In view of the multifarious issues highlighted that arise at the intersection of various legal and ethical concepts, CIS respectfully requests the DST to conduct another round of consultation after the publication of the second draft of the NGP. Multiple rounds of consultation and feedback would contribute to the robustness of the lawmaking process and ensure that the final policy safeguards the general public interest, and the interests and rights of various stakeholders involved.

3.13.3. CIS is thankful to DST for the opportunity to provide comments, and would be privileged to provide further assistance on the matter to DST.

 

Endnotes

[1] See: http://www.dst.gov.in/sites/default/files/Draft-NGP-Ver%201%20ammended_05May2016.pdf.

[2] See: http://cis-india.org/.

[3] See: https://egovstandards.gov.in/sites/default/files/Published%20Documents/Policy_on_Open_Standards_for_e-Governance.pdf.

[4] See: http://data.gov.in/sites/default/files/NDSAP.pdf.

[5] See: http://deity.gov.in/sites/upload_files/dit/files/policy_on_adoption_of_oss.pdf.

[6] See: http://deity.gov.in/sites/upload_files/dit/files/Open_APIs_19May2015.pdf.

[7] See: http://rti.gov.in/webactrti.htm.

[8] See: http://www.archive.india.gov.in/allimpfrms/allacts/3314.pdf, sections 2(d) and 3(b).

[9] See: https://data.gov.in/sites/default/files/NDSAP.pdf.

[10] See section 2.11 of NDSAP.

[11] See section 2.10 of NDSAP.

[12] See: http://mha.nic.in/sites/upload_files/mha/files/GeospatialBill_05052016_eve.pdf.

[13] See: http://deity.gov.in/sites/upload_files/dit/files/GSR313E_10511%281%29.pdf.

[14] J. Mohanraj v (1) Secretary To Government, Delhi; (2) Indian Space Research Organisation, Bangalore; (3) Google India Private Limited, Bangalore, 2008 Indlaw MAD 3562.

 

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