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Whose Laws Apply On the ISS?

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the well-mine-do-of-course dept.

NASA 344

Hugh Pickens writes "Whose laws apply if astronauts from different countries get into a fight, make a patentable discovery, or damage equipment belonging to another country while on the International Space Station? According to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, ratified by 98 nations, states have legal jurisdiction within spacecraft registered to them. When the space station was assembled from modules supplied by the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency (ESA), partners rejected an initial proposal that US law should prevail throughout the space station. "It was agreed that each state registers its own separate elements, which means that you now have a piece of the US annexed to a piece of Europe annexed to a piece of Japan in outer space, legally speaking," said Dr Frans von der Dunk of the International Institute of Air and Space Law at the University of Leiden. So what happens if a crime is committed in space? "If somebody performs an activity which may be considered criminal, it is in the first instance his own country which is able to exercise jurisdiction," Dr. von der Dunk added."

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344 comments

Dr. von der Dunk? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270257)

Didn't he invent the "Coffee and Donut" combination?

We clearly need (5, Funny)

dnormant (806535) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270263)

a Federation.

Re:We clearly need (4, Funny)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270369)

Bah. Only a strong central government can calm the chaos. We need an Empire.

Re:We clearly need (4, Funny)

presarioD (771260) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270685)

Nahhh, only benevolent and wise entities can lead the sheep. We need overlords...

Re:We clearly need (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270863)

I, for one, will welcome them...

Re:We clearly need (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270793)

Does that mean that we would be governed by Brannigan's Law?

Re:We clearly need (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270959)

...Which is like Brannigan's love - hard and fast.

If astronauts fight.. (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270267)

..the winner makes the law. Duh.

Hmmmm (1)

joeytmann (664434) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270277)

I think some one has way to much time on their hands.

Probably a lawyer (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270585)

You have heard of ambulance chasing? Now we are spacecraft chasing. The scarey part is that they lawyers may be able to do what politicians could not; take apart NASA.

Re:Probably a lawyer (3, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270957)

And exactly what is wrong with NASA? A lot of good science comes out of it. Sure a lot of it isn't immediately obvious as to the benefit, but the country and the world as a whole is better off for having the agency around doing research.

Climate research for example has greatly benefited from the actions of the agency.

First Post HA ha!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270281)

First post

Fingers crossed. (3, Funny)

Asm-Coder (929671) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270293)

I had hoped that astronauts would be above this, but, nobody seems to be above anything nowadays.

Re:Fingers crossed. (-1, Flamebait)

kerohazel (913211) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270485)

I had hoped that astronauts would be above this, but, nobody seems to be above anything nowadays.
Are you serious? Are astronauts supposed to be morally superior? The concept that "nobody seems to be above anything", at least when it comes to groups of people (people grouped by profession included), has been true since humans have existed.

Re:Fingers crossed. (0)

darkonc (47285) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270667)

I had hoped that astronauts would be above this, but, ...
I've got two words for you: "Diaper driving".

Astronauts are, like the rest of us, very human with human foibles. They're no less likely to mess up than we are -- it's just that the results of such errors are multiplied by (if nothing else) the intense publicity (and, now, a legal limbo).

Re:Fingers crossed. (0)

mackil (668039) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270669)

I'm with you on hoping that they are, but remember Lisa Nowak [wikipedia.org].

Re:Fingers crossed. (1, Funny)

monoqlith (610041) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270967)

Which raises the (perhaps even more important) question: If an astronaut soils his/her Depends, which country is most responsible for changing it?

Well, fortunately - (1)

wsanders (114993) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270679)

- Putting on diapers and driving nonstop across the country to kill your romantic rival with a hammer will get you arrested pretty much anywhere.

Re:Fingers crossed. (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270937)

Well don't worry, because we can always trust the judgment of a guy whose name Dutch for "Doctor of-the-dark".

Crimes in space (5, Funny)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270305)

If a crime is committed in space, we need to execute a nice antique trial-by-fire... if they survive decompression, they must be innocent. If not, they're guilty. It's foolproof!

Re:Crimes in space (3, Informative)

adz (630844) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270565)

Wrong way round. You don't want innocent people getting upset because you decompressed them. So the innocent ones are the ones who die (besides, you're a bit of a freak if you survive decompression).

Re:Crimes in space (1)

SgtPepperKSU (905229) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270851)

Ah, but then you have the deaths of innocent people on your hands. If death==guilt then anyone you killed must have deserved it. And, if anyone survives, they are "a bit of a freak" (as you put it), so no one will listen to them anyway.

What, you expect truth to trump convenience?

War of the Roses in space? (4, Insightful)

burtosis (1124179) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270319)

Whoever owns the rights to the module you have to enter/leave by is going to win this one.

What do you mean I can't have more air?

Re:War of the Roses in space? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270639)

Are the fights that serious on the ISS? I understand if we have working colonies in orbit or on the moon we'll need to have a codified system. Did I miss something and all of the sudden the ISS is Thunderdome now?

crime? what about birth? (4, Interesting)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270333)

Wait till the first child gets born. They might be the first people able to claim multinationality, or perhaps to be able to drop the concept of nationality altogether.

Ok, unlikely, but would it not rock?

Re:crime? what about birth? (3, Informative)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270457)

They might be the first people able to claim multinationality


Actually, lots of people are able to claim more than one nationality as a result of birth; for instance, anyone born of a parent from one country that makes children of its citizens citizens by birth, that also:
1) has their other parent a citizen of another country that does that, or
2) is born in a country different than their parents country of citizenship, that makes people born in the country citizens by birth,
Can claim birthright citizenship in more than one country. IIRC, some countries force such a person to make a choice of one or the other at adulthood or give up the claim. I don't really think the ISS, despite having bits of many countries in close proximity, really adds anything new in this regard.

four places at once (4, Interesting)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270547)

There are documented cases of people born on airplanes who were able to claim citizenship in four countries at once - their home country, the country where the plane took off from, the country where the plane landed, and the country whose airspace the person was in when they were born.

Re:crime? what about birth? (1)

darkonc (47285) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270731)

I have an ex-girlfriend with triple citizenship -- Us and Britain (which her parents were citizens of when she was born) and Canada (where she was born).

Re:crime? what about birth? (1)

vorpal22 (114901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270901)

I myself have triple citizenship. I was born in the US when my mom and dad were down there temporarily (from Canada) while my dad did a postdoc. I received Canadian citizenship through my mother, and Dutch citizenship through my father, who was born in Holland.

I fully plan on taking advantage of all three during my life.

Re:crime? what about birth? (1)

aktzin (882293) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270543)

Good point, but it might depend on the module where the baby is born and the parents' nationalities. In most cases a child automatically receives either or both parents' citizenship. For example, children of US diplomats or military personnel born abroad.

I understand that when a child can claim more than one country, some nations allow dual citizenship while others require the person to choose one at age 18. And recently I read that Switzerland doesn't automatically grant Swiss citizenship to babies born there if their parents aren't citizens already. Could any of our friends from .ch confirm or correct this please?

"Better the pride that resides in a citizen of the world than the pride that divides when a colorful rag is unfurled." (Rush - "Territories" from the album "Power Windows")

Re:crime? what about birth? (3, Informative)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270651)

I'm reasonably certain that both Germany's and Switzerland's citizenship laws work this way. In fact, there's a sizable Turkish population in Germany, many of whom have lived there for generations, but who don't have citizenship because Germany doesn't automatically grant it at birth. At least, that's the situation as I remember it. It's been a while since I lived there, and I was just a kid.

It's probably too much to ask, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270339)

Do not murder
Do not lie
Do not steal
Treat others how you want to be treated
etc.

Re:It's probably too much to ask, but... (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270799)

I think your fourth item nicely covers the others, including "etc".

Re:It's probably too much to ask, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270811)

Then go hug a tree as soon as you return to earth, sing kumbaya, buy a hybrid car, donate all your twinkies to Sally Struthers for her starving third world chidren and live in peace and harmony till the end of time.

Meanwhile the rest of us live in the real world.

I wonder.. (2, Funny)

aevan (903814) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270347)

So when are the Dutch sending up the hydroponics section again?
Still think be more amusing to have it be whoever you're currently flying over. "3-2-1-Not Legal!"

Originally had thought it really didn't matter, seeing as they 'rigorously screen astronauts'...but after the Diaper Psycho incident, this might come to be of importance soon enough. Bugger of a wait for trial if something happens on a Mars mission though.

Who pays for the station? (1, Flamebait)

usul294 (1163169) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270359)

The vast majority of the cost that goes into the space station is American. Launching the large components, doing the risky spacewalks, delivering personnel. Other countries build some of the components (science labs), and Russia provides supplies the station as well as delivers personnel. The risk and investment in the station though has primarily fallen to the American's. American law should be defacto onboard the station. However, with patentable materials, the organizations responsible for the research of the patent maintain patent rights, so this could include multiple governments. The American government fronts somewhere along the lines of 2/3 to 3/4 the cost of the station, so I think it makes sense that American law should be the precedent to go by.

Re:Who pays for the station? (0, Offtopic)

lorenzino (1130749) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270467)

Please mod parent flaim bait :) I mean, its called Interantional for one reason. Yeah American are paying .. but I guess they accepted to join , again, an International base.

Re:Who pays for the station? (0, Offtopic)

timster (32400) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270761)

That would be a pretty stupid thing to do -- the comment presents a reasonable argument. You can disagree but that doesn't suggest a flamebait mod.

Re:Who pays for the station? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270541)

How do you know about the budgetting? Could you please cite some reference claiming America pays 2/3 or 3/4 of the total cost?

Re:Who pays for the station? (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270549)

American law should be defacto onboard the station

Oh great - are you proposing it should be legal to carry a gun on the ISS then?

Re:Who pays for the station? (2, Interesting)

Detritus (11846) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270741)

Why not? They already have a firearm on the Soyuz. It's part of their survival kit in case they land off-course and have to deal with unfriendly and hungry wildlife.

Re:Who pays for the station? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270801)

> Why not?

Why, because guns are evil, of course.

Independence (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270365)

Form the Peoples' Republic of the ISS! The flag would be two horizontal stripes, black on top of blue, and a white star in the middle.

Seriously though, if Earth's orbit gets any more populated, this is going to be an issue. If orbiting settlements ever get going, they might wish to break away and become self-governing.

Re:Independence (1, Funny)

joeytmann (664434) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270587)

we wish to cecede from the planet.....? Actually that doesn't sounds like to bad of an idea as messed up as it is.

Re:Independence (1)

Torvaun (1040898) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270767)

What would they trade for foodstuffs? And water. And oxygen. And any number of other things.

Re:Independence (1)

iocat (572367) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270613)

Hmm... that might be a good idea for a sci-fi book... or a thousand...

Like the flag concept tough.

Simple (1)

holywarrior21c (933929) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270375)

Build another module and have it served as jail-only-functional-module. and punish one according to UN laws(if there is one)

Re:Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270465)

Only to have the Russia and China vote against it in the Security Council, just because the U.S. funds most of the ISS.

but but but (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270377)

Astronauts don't break the law....
Oh wait...

Usual Suspects 2? (1)

newgalactic (840363) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270389)

Keyser Söze is going to have a field day with this.

Re:Usual Suspects 2? (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270683)

:-)

OK - the problem may be there but most actions that are considered a crime in one country are also crimes in other countries. For the few cases where there is a difference it may be a case for diplomatic dispute on earth. And even a successful psychological evaluation can let a person through that aren't really fit for certain conditions. Person chemistry is very important - especially in cramped quarters. Even if two persons goes through all tests with grand results they may be mismatching radically, and that is probably the most important issue to figure out. Most people breaks at some position, the question is only where and when.

And really bad crimes are going to be self-solving anyways. "OK you just killed your fellows - we won't send up any food and air next time.".

Extremes (4, Funny)

orzetto (545509) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270419)

What happens if you have a joint in the Dutch module and some jolly fellow pushes you over in the Singapore module? Do you get spaced?

Re:Extremes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270765)

No, but female astronauts have to put on a burqa before going into the Saudi module.

Million dollar pen? Use a pencil (2, Funny)

Riddler Sensei (979333) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270431)

I foresee the international trial of the century wherein American astronauts are accused of stealing pencils from the Russians after their own space aged pens die.

Re:Million dollar pen? Use a pencil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270517)

The pencils caused graphite particles to break off and could damage components of the station. Hence, ink was a much safer (albeit expensive) choice.

United Nations? (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270435)

Maybe this is where some sort of general treaty needs to be defined for situations where sovereignty is ambiguous. The way I would see it:
    - any discovery performed in a situation in ambiguous territory should be defined as an international discovery
    - if a situation occurs that is considered beyond petty, then diplomatic channels should be used

 

Re:United Nations? (1)

ZombieWomble (893157) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270593)

I do think the "What about discoveries?" line is just a red herring - since when was the nationality of the discoverer/location of the discovery the sole factor in what nation "owns" a patent? Indeed, patents are not something which are solely restricted by nationality. The rights to any particular discovery will probably resolve to whatever institute or institutes planned and organized the experiment - and working in research in a university, I know how anal most such institutions are about intellectual property, so I'm sure they've got patent ownership sorted out neatly between themselves, regardless of how their governments dither.

US Law is a bad idea (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270439)

Allowing the US to write law for the ISS is a bad idea, especially when the idea of patentable research comes up. That would be far to open to manipulation by less than honest politicians in Washington. The law should be written on a multinational basis through collaboration. If the project is collaborative, then the rules should be too.

pointless question... (1)

AxemRed (755470) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270451)

I would think that the rule of law on the space station would be the same as the rule of law on a ship in the middle of the ocean. It's kind of like saying, if a bunch of sailors of different nationalities are out in the middle of the ocean on a UN ship, whose law applies? I don't know the answer, but I'm sure that there are policies in place. Just because the people are in space instead of in the ocean doesn't really change things that much in my mind.

Re:pointless question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270529)

actually, it is different. as pointed out in the original story, the ISS is built by different countries. This is wholly different than a cruise ship or other vessel, where the entity was presumably built within and by a single country. the article postulates that the ownership of the various modules dictates an extension of that country's rights and laws.

Re:pointless question... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270885)

The Canadian Criminal Code basically states that if any crime on the ISS involves a Canuck, Canada can prosecute the crime:

Section 7:

Space Station -- Canadian crew members

(2.3) Despite anything in this Act or any other Act, a Canadian crew member who, during a space flight, commits an act or omission outside Canada that if committed in Canada would constitute an indictable offence is deemed to have committed that act or omission in Canada, if that act or omission is committed
(a) on, or in relation to, a flight element of the Space Station; or

(b) on any means of transportation to or from the Space Station.

Space Station -- crew members of Partner States

(2.31) Despite anything in this Act or any other Act, a crew member of a Partner State who commits an act or omission outside Canada during a space flight on, or in relation to, a flight element of the Space Station or on any means of transportation to and from the Space Station that if committed in Canada would constitute an indictable offence is deemed to have committed that act or omission in Canada, if that act or omission
(a) threatens the life or security of a Canadian crew member; or

(b) is committed on or in relation to, or damages, a flight element provided by Canada.

This is the same section that governs crimes on aircraft, oil platforms, and some ships.

Already covered (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270527)

I thought this was already covered. I once wondered about this, if a Canadian took his American friend out on a boat trip into the pacific, inter-national waters, and then killed him and dumped his body over board but got caught later where is jurisdiction? I was told, that the Canadian would be charged in his home country, whereas if the American was famous or such his country may ask for extradition.
Usual IANAL disclaimer.

Good question ... (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270563)

Whose Laws Apply On the ISS?

You could say, whichever nation the ISS was above when the alleged crime was committed.

In reality though, it will probably come down to the astro/cosmo/whatevernaut that smuggled aboard the biggest gun.

right.... (4, Insightful)

superwiz (655733) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270607)

Law? As in rules of civil society? How bout acknowledging the fact that there is no society on a space station and not giving in to lawyers who are trying to con people into thinking that their contribution is necessary in a situation where "law" is, in fact, the least efficient way to solve problems?

Nobody's (2, Insightful)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270615)

there are at most a dozen people up there at one time.

one dozen people in a floating school bus don't need laws about drivers licenses, aircraft operation, housing codes, or logging regulations (maybe one day we'll have Treeees Innnnn Spaaace, but not today)

it's not as if anyone can anonymously commit crimes up there, and if anyone gets really rowdy they can have a nice, cold, explosive time "out".

Re:Nobody's (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270737)

Oh please. I've submitted at least 12 space station centered murder mystery plots to the various Law and Order franchises. Its not that hard to think of a way to kill on the space station and not have it be anonymous.

Re:Nobody's (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270839)

Oh please. I've submitted at least 12 space station centered murder mystery plots to the various Law and Order franchises. Its not that hard to think of a way to kill on the space station and not have it be anonymous.


what did it involve exactly?
*shot of group of 5 guys in the small and completely open floating cylinder*
guy 1 - "you 3 look over there"
guy 2 - "arrgh" *dies*
guys 3-5 look back
guy 1, hiding knife - "who did that?"

As long as... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270617)

As long as we have a place on the space station with US laws so that we can legally torture any space terrorists we should be able to rely on our ISS security.

heh (3, Funny)

B3ryllium (571199) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270621)

In Space, no one can hear you scream Habeus Corpus. :)

OT: Your sig (1, Offtopic)

sconeu (64226) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270821)

It would be cooler if your domain was registered in Belgium, or if your domain was Calcium, instead.

Then it would either be beryllium.be or calcium.ca :)

Interesting Questions (4, Interesting)

Thyamine (531612) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270633)

Definitely opens the door for some interesting questions:

  • If an astronaut from Nation X makes a discovery in Nation Y's module/ISS component/lab, can Nation Y make a claim on the discovery?
  • Who's patent/legal laws apply to the discover made by the same astronaut? Does the astronaut get to choose? Do both have to apply?
  • Can a country ban an astronaut from it's soil, and thereby ban that astronaut from using it's module/equipment?
  • If two astronauts from two different countries have an altercation in a completely different nations module, who's legal authority is applicable?

Aliens from outer space (4, Funny)

ishmalius (153450) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270655)

We used to joke that, technically, cosmonauts who launched from Baikonur and landed at Canaveral were exactly that.

well its *called* (2, Interesting)

myowntrueself (607117) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270703)

You will often see it called 'The NASA Space Station Project' in a great many news sources and thats how NASA refer to it...

So I guess U.S. laws would apply since its obviously a NASA project...

Oh wait, that would be in U.S. news sources... and in press releases from a U.S. space agency...

One solution... (4, Funny)

lpangelrob (714473) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270707)

1.) Provide each astronaut a handgun of personal choice
2.) Place astronauts back-to-back in the center of the longest capsule on board
3.) If velcro boots are provided, order each astronaut to take ten steps toward the edge of the capsule. If not, approximate 10 seconds of floating in opposite directions before turning and firing.
4.) In the event the space station is still intact and both parties are still alive, review tape footage and declare the astronaut with the most matrix-like moves the winner.

Getting away (1)

xriz (891069) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270751)

Well, it's going to be really difficult to get away unnoticed after the crime...

"Come in here and say that! (1)

finlandia1869 (1001985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270817)

I can hear it now. Better yet, what if I stand in my module, throw a missile through a second module, and hit you in a third module? Then what?

wel put the lawyer in the toilet compartment (1)

PermanentMarker (916408) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270827)

wel put the lawyer in the toilet compartment the one who owns that owns the station in the end :)

Whose law applies (1)

apexdawn (915478) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270859)

I think it should apply to whomever can cut off the other persons head and gain the quickening. :P

-Reed

Illegal region-free DVD player aboard the ISS (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#21270883)

The ISS has an illegal modded "region-free" DVD player, purchased by NASA and shipped up in 2001.

Properly, the ISS should have a Region 8 player. Those are for aircraft, cruise ships, and "international venues". Airlines have to buy Region 8 players and discs for in-flight entertainment. Why isn't the MPAA pursuing this? It sets a bad example.

Another First For Mankind! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21270927)

When the first rape happens in space, they should just make sure they do it in the Japanese compartment. Then the crime wont be reported and they'll likely blame the victim anyway.
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