Multiple servers are being established in different agencies to support the NSDI. For example, the Soil Department has digitized its data and put up a soil server that has all the soil information. The Environment and the Forest Departments have put all the forest information and the satellite images on separate servers and so on. Thus, NSDI provides a single gateway that allows users to go to these servers and extract the information they need.
Access rights and users must be defined for the NSDI to be operational. The public access will be mainly in a preview mode. The generator of information will have the full right of access. Other policy issues involving costs, regulation of access, and classification of information, for example, are currently being defined.
A server that contains the metadata of the spatial data is available. Through these metadata one can find out the information that is available in different agencies for different areas. This metadata server will eventually be linked to the individual digital GIS databases, which will reside on different servers. The user will then be able to go to the metadata and access the information through the total network that will be established for the NSDI.
In addition, a remote-sensing data policy has already been approved by the Government of India. This policy clearly states that the satellite images are seen as a public good. Through this policy the government will ensure the continuous availability of the Indian remote-sensing satellite images through a series of future missions.
Satellite images of up to 5 m resolution are available on a nondiscriminatory open-access basis, but for the high-resolution images that are 1 m, access is regulated by authentication of the user and the use of the application. This process ensures that a right to add value is given to the user, while the original copyright of all the satellite images rests with the responsible national agency.
We are slowly moving toward consolidating the issues of a spatial information policy. We are trying to position spatial information, which includes not just the satellite images but also a variety of other information from photographic service, cartographic service, the GPS, and ground tools service as a societal good. This is especially important if these data and information are going to be useful for development. One constraint that surfaces in providing complete open access is the strategic value of high-resolution satellite imagery and large-scale map information from a national security perspective; this type of information would not reside on the NSDI.
A major concern of most of the agencies is their rights as the information producer. How does the NSDI defend the rights of the information producer? Other issues involve copyright, which is complicated in the digital domain and includes licensing, as well as technological protection measures.
The crux of the whole policy is the right to access. Who has the right to access all the spatial data and what are their rights? They should be very clearly documented and known; transparent policy is critical. Different user groups should be granted different rights. The public should have certain rights; an individual should be able to access data that are required by the public. The government should have different types of rights because they are the actual owners of the information. The private sector should be given a different type of right for accessing the information, for operating the database, and producing it for development. Academia, for research purposes, should have yet another type of rights. The process of defining these categories of users and their rights is ongoing.
There is a major debate concerning the right to add value to the data and information and how that right is defined. What is value addition? If someone changes just some attributes of the data do they become value-added? The scope by which one defines the term “value-added,” especially in the spatial domain, needs more clarity. Other issues involve the marketing of value-added data, as well as the rights of the producers of the original raw data. Map information is treated as value-added because the map is a derivative of the process. The development of an NSDI engenders even more questions. For example, could some of the spatial data be used against individuals and society? There are also privacy issues, both individual and societal.
NSDI must also consider cost models. One model, which charges the cost of reproduction and dissemination, would be applied mainly to most of the government-owned information because the government has the obligation to society to generate the right information and make it available. Of course, the commercial, or total cost recovery model, is another to consider, particularly when information is in the commercial domain.
It is anticipated that the NSDI strategies and guidelines will be released in the near future. After discussion within the government, it will then be made public how the NSDI will actually be accessible or available to different groups of users.