Laws versus technology

Enrique Dans
May 10, 2016 · 2 min read

India has just introduced draft legislation that will require anybody providing geospatial information about the country to be licensed, or face a fine of $150,000.

The draft bill has been cobbled together in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Pathankot military base allegedly by Islamic extremists seeking to further destabilize the already difficult relationship between India and Pakistan and that left eight people dead, along with the terrorists themselves. The Indian government blamed Google Maps for providing detailed information of the area, but given the company’s history of working with governments to eliminate details about military and other sensitive sites, it seems in this case as though the Indian authorities may be responsible for the oversight.

If the bill is passed, it would mean that not only a huge number of apps, particularly social media, would require a license, as well as putting themselves under strict government control, but also anybody who wished to share their location, clearly an impractical solution.

India has just rolled out its own geospatial system via seven satellites that cover the country and a further 1,500 kilometers beyond its borders, making this law a major obstacle to innovation and the development of other services using geolocation. At present, only seven other countries have their own geospatial systems: the United States (GPS) and Russia’s (GLONASS) are global, while China (BeiDou-2) and the EU (Galileo) are still developing global systems. Japan (QZSS) and India (NAVIC) are regional.

Worse yet, India’s move will do nothing to protect it from terrorist attacks: anybody wishing to target the country can find the information required to locate a sensitive site from other sources, given that the legislation will only be applicable within India.

All India is doing by trying to push this legislation through is show that it doesn’t understand how technology works. Geopositioning was, until relatively recently, the ambit solely of the military, but now anybody with a smartphone can now obtain their location using a smartphone. Trying to police geopositioning by imposing restrictions on anybody trying to provide the service is quite simply a waste of time.

Trying to control technology is never a good idea. Once something has been developed, if it is any use to anybody, it will soon be made cheaper and widely available and cannot be stopped. We can only hope that other governments around the world are watching India, and that they will learn from its failure to try to restrict geopositioning.


(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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