Survey of India alleges ‘Mapathon’ “likely to jeopardise national security”

Internet giant Google could land in serious trouble over its ‘Mapathon 2013’ as the Delhi Police have launched an inquiry into the mapping contest held in February-March this year following a formal complaint by the Survey of India.

“Mapathon 2013 activity is likely to jeopardise national security interest and violates the National Map Policy. Citizens of the country, who are ignorant of the legal consequences, are likely to violate the law of the land,” the Survey of India wrote in its complaint filed at the RK Puram police station on March 25, 2013.

“We have received a complaint from the Survey of India…an inquiry has been initiated,” a senior Delhi Police official said. Google had launched the Mapathon contest between February 12 and March 25, asking Indians to map their neighbourhoods and send their maps so that they can be uploaded in the search engine’s sites. Google had also said it would reward the top 1,000 participants.

In a letter to Google’s India office on March 21, Additional Surveyor-General of India R.C. Padhi asked the U.S.-based Internet company to stop the activity which was against “India’s policy guidelines.” “Survey of India is only [sic] mandated to undertake ‘Restricted’ category surveying and mapping and no other government/private organisations or any individual are authorised to do so,” he wrote.

As per the National Map Policy, 2005, “The responsibility for producing, maintaining and disseminating the topographic map database of the whole country, which is the foundation of all spatial data vests with the Survey of India.”

The Survey of India further noted that the “Ministry of Defence has identified and prepared a list of civil and military vital areas (VAs)/vital points (VPs) in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is regularly updated. [From] national security points of view these VAs/VPs cannot be shown in the map/data published in public domain.”

The mapping organisation also pointed out that in the terms of services, Google said individuals will be solely responsible for submission and the consequences of posting or publishing the contents. Hinting that the mapping exercise could unknowingly land Indians in trouble as they might map restricted areas, it said that “most of the individuals posting the information may not be aware of the security and legal implications of populating geographic information in [this] exercise.”

When contacted, a Google spokesperson said the idea behind the Mapathon contest was to make local information accessible to every Indian — such as health providers, emergency services, eating places, and educational institutes. “The Mapathon, like all mapping activity, has guidelines that follow applicable laws. We have not been informed of any specific sensitive locations being added in Google Map Maker during the recent Mapathon exercise, or otherwise. Google takes security and national regulations very seriously,” the spokesperson added.

BJP Rajya Sabha MP Tarun Vijay first raised the issue by writing to the Survey of India about what he claimed was a “major threat to national security.” Mr. Vijay said Google has already provided maps where many “strategic locations” have been marked like Parliament, Sena Bhawan, and various ministries. “A criminal case should be registered against Google for violating Indian defence regulations.”

Ironically, many of these “strategic” locations have been visible on Google Maps (including with satellite imagery) for years and are marked in virtually all tourist maps of the Capital.

According to cyber law expert Pawan Duggal: “If Google was trying to delve into sovereign government space, it is bound to have serious ramifications. Though there is no direct law which bars them from carrying out such activity … the government can notify that they were duty-bound not to go ahead with such an exercise. Since Google is an intermediary under the IT Act, they are required to carry out due diligence while carrying out their activities.”

Mr. Duggal also noted that the IT rules clearly say that intermediaries shall not host, upload, post, publish, transmit or share any information that prejudicially impacts the sovereignty of India.