GPS is not a crime

Keeping a close eye on the developing story of the arrest of two GPS surveyors in Gujarat, India. Their crime .. a GPS system fitted in their car, and videos of places they surveyed. If that sounds like your favorite crowdsourcing mapping project, you have cause to be concerned. Chippy blogs they were working for a mapping company contracted by Nokia. That’s a legitimate, international corporation folks .. not a bunch of hackers wandering around with GPS talking to themselves (into audio recorders).

It’s likely these guys simply ignored common sense. Filming military installations anywhere is likely to generate _some harassment_. But common sense may soon not be enough. Are railway stations and five star hotels now militarily sensitive locations? Will lists of sensitive areas be published publicly, so mappers know to avoid them? Unlikely. Which leaves the absurd possibility of not knowing if you are violating the law until after you do so. Reminds me of the creepier trends in the US post-9/11, a world we’re hopefully leaving behind next month, and it saddens me to see this trend reemerge in India.

What’s dangerous is that the recent attacks in Mumbai give authorities an excuse to overstep authority, to incarcerate on flimsy pretenses and to widen the definition of suspicious activities and sensitive areas. Google Earth and GPS are again technological scapegoats

Details emerging from investigations following the attacks reveal that among their arsenal of weapons included a cache of ICT gadgets like satellite and mobile, and GPS equipment that were cleverly used to keep battalions of security forces at bay for hours.

Your mobile phone and GPS is considered a weapon. And I had thought it was actual weapons that had kept the security forces at bay. What else should be considered weapons? Boats? Food? Oxygen? All were employed. GPS and Google Earth are part of our lives, and pointing at these seriously overwhelmingly beneficial technologies is seriously lame blame game. Just deploy a GPS jammer with security forces.

There’s a hundred more plausible reasons why this happened vigorously discussed in this thread. And don’t forget that GPS and Google Earth (funded by In-Q-Tel) both started as military technologies; it’s one of the more astoundingly clear headed strategies of the US military that generally, more information in the public sphere increases security. The OpenStreetMap of Mumbai was itself used to elucidate the situation in Wikipedia’s comprehensive coverage.

We’re seeing the same absurd suspicion rear its head in Egypt, reasserting the illegality of GPS within iPhones. Of course GPS are everywhere there, I spoke about GPS mapping in Egypt this year, and OpenStreetMap in Cairo and Egypt as a whole is taking off.

What can we do? The India OSM talk list has suggested that local chapters may help present an official govt facing organization for such matters. The fact that the arrested mappers in India worked for a company working for Nokia makes this seem unlikely. And if we asked for permission, would it be granted? No. And we never have asked for permission!

I’m concerned. Mapping started as a military technology, and that outdated view is still held widely .. especially in places where OSM is needed most, where mapping is of crucial social benefit. Bloggers are arrested frequently under repressive regimes. We must be poised to come to the aid of mappers when the repression spreads.