India Proposes Rules Forcing Google, Uber to Get Map Permits

  • Violaters to face seven years in prison, $15 million fine
  • India has long-running border disputes with China, Pakistan

India proposed rules requiring companies such as Alphabet Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. to submit their maps to the government for permission and vetting before they can be distributed.

Anyone that illegally acquires and publishes Indian map information could face penalties, including as many as seven years in jail and fines of as much as 1 billion rupees ($15 million), according to the draft rules. Punishment may also be imposed for wrong mapping information, including international borders.

“The penalties are very stiff -- companies will scream," said Mukund Rao, adjunct professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies and a consultant on earth observation and geographic information systems. “Geospatial data has security implications but we need a good balance."

India has long been concerned that its military installations and high-security areas are vulnerable to attack. It also wants to control how the country is represented, including international boundaries and disputed borders with China and Pakistan.

The proposal follows a similar move in China, which on January 1 enacted a new Map Administration Ordinance banning the production, display or sale of maps depicting the People’s Republic of China in a way that’s not in accordance with national standards and regulations. Relevant parties violating the rules could be fined as much as 200,000 yuan ($30,700), it said. 

Debate Needed

Companies acquiring geospatial imagery or data of any part of India through aerial platforms such as satellites and aircraft are required to apply to the government’s Security Vetting Authority for a license. The government published a draft bill on May 4 and is seeking comments with within 30 days.

“There has to be a policy on such a sensitive matter -- a debate is required,” said K. Kasturirangan, former chairman of the government’s Indian Space Research Organization, which collects and commercially markets space imagery. He said he hasn’t analyzed the impact of the bill on startups. “These companies have an opportunity to respond to the draft.”

In 2011, Google’s Street View was blocked from photographing Bangalore after objections by the city’s police department.

A Google spokesman said the company is reviewing the bill and studying its implications. Uber said it had no comment.

Last year, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg infuriated many Indians after posting an infographic containing a map of the country that didn’t include Jammu & Kashmir, one of the country’s 29 states.

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