Geospatial data too may be regulated by data protection bill: Officials

Storage of geospatial data, too, needs to follow the general privacy principles and rules that would be applicable to sensitive personal information or critical data in the bill proposed by the Justice BN Srikrishna-led committee, say officials.
The proposed geospatial bill deals with data on a location collected through unmanned aerial vehicles, aircraft and balloon.(HT File Photo)
The proposed geospatial bill deals with data on a location collected through unmanned aerial vehicles, aircraft and balloon.(HT File Photo)
Updated on Oct 16, 2018 09:02 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByRajesh Ahuja

The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, proposed by the government two years ago, is as good as dead due to the controversy generated by its harsh penal provisions. But officials involved with firming up an overall legal framework for data protection are of the view that the proposed Data Protection Bill can have provisions for safeguarding geospatial data as well.

“One may argue that the proposed geospatial bill and the data protection bill, which deals with data of a personal nature, require different kinds of legislative and enforcement response. But if one analyses the two bills, there is a considerable overlap here. The geospatial data in any sensitive and strategic organisation also attracts provisions for privacy and security,” said a senior government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

He added that storage of geospatial data, too, need to follow the general privacy principles and rules that would be applicable to sensitive personal information or critical data in the bill proposed by the Justice BN Srikrishna-led committee.

The proposed geospatial bill deals with data on a location collected through satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aircraft and balloons. Data or images or charts or maps that show natural or man-made physical features, phenomena, boundaries on earth are under its purview.

The bill provides that disseminating, publishing or displaying information that is likely to affect the “security, sovereignty or integrity” of the country would become a punishable crime. There is provision for establishing a security vetting authority that would scrutinise applications of geospatial information or data providers to bring the images in the public domain.

The draft also proposes a jail term of seven years and a fine of upto ?100 crore for violating the provisions of the bill.

“Harsh penal provisions and the overarching nature of the bill made it very controversial and it is as good as dead now. But similar offences can be defined and penalties proposed both for geospatial as well as personal data. In the geospatial bill, there is a provision for a security vetting authority for granting a licence for collecting data. Similarly, a data protection authority is proposed in the data protection bill for enforcing the data protection regime of the country. The overlap can be avoided,” said the official.

A home ministry official involved with the drafting of the geospatial data bill agreed that merging the two bills was a doable option.

“There is a considerable overlap here,” he said.

Following the submission of the Justice BN Srikrishna committee report, the government is in the process of firming up a data protection law that will define citizens as “data principals” and any entity that collects data as “data fiduciaries”. The proposed bill also provides penal provisions for breach of data.

The proposed bill says it would be the responsibility of “data fiduciaries” to handle data in a fair and responsible manner.

“Data protection bill must be holistic. A focus on sensitive personal data may not serve the country well. It is imperative to include more kinds of data, including geospatial data, within the ambit of the proposed data protection bill. But it must be ensured that it is enabling in nature and would grant legality to geospatial data,” says lawyer Pawan Duggal, who deals with matters of privacy and cyber security.

As of now there is no focused legal framework to deal with geospatial data.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2021