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NASA Space

Whose Laws Apply On the ISS? 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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Whose Laws Apply On the ISS?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:37PM (#21270257)
    Didn't he invent the "Coffee and Donut" combination?
  • by dnormant ( 806535 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:38PM (#21270263)
    a Federation.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:38PM (#21270267)

    ..the winner makes the law. Duh.

  • by Asm-Coder ( 929671 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:39PM (#21270293)
    I had hoped that astronauts would be above this, but, nobody seems to be above anything nowadays.
  • by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:40PM (#21270305) Homepage
    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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by adz ( 630844 )
      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).
      • 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?
        • Re:Crimes in space (Score:5, Informative)

          by Cedric Tsui ( 890887 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:44PM (#21271355)
          No No. It is clearly the other way around.
          The witch trials for instance. Witches float, so you tie the accused witch up to ensure she can't swim (because that would add a a second variable of uncertainty) and toss her into the nearest creek. If she floats, and is a which, you then haul her over to the town square to be burned. If she sinks and drowns... An unfortunate casualty of the justice system.
    • by zx75 ( 304335 )
      Yes, except you have that backwards.

      If they survive decompression, they must be guilty! If not, they're innocent.
    • by vimh42 ( 981236 )
      A witch!
      • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:37PM (#21271277) Journal

        What else floats in microgravity?

        Lead! Lead!
        Small rocks!

        A duck...


  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:40PM (#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?

  • I know ... (Score:4, Funny)

    by ubrgeek ( 679399 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:41PM (#21270331)
    Let Sealand [] claim it :)
  • by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:41PM (#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?
    • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:48PM (#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 (Score:5, Interesting)

        by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:53PM (#21270547) Homepage
        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.

      • by darkonc ( 47285 )
        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).
      • 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.
    • by aktzin ( 882293 )

      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 bo

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nebaz ( 453974 )
      What citizenship can be claimed by people born on the high seas?
    • by vimh42 ( 981236 )
      I imagine the phrase "Die earth scum!" to become more common in the future.
  • I wonder.. (Score:2, Funny)

    by aevan ( 903814 )
    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.
  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:42PM (#21270361)

    Urgent! Do NOT GO into the module made by the United States.

  • 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.

  • but but but (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Astronauts don't break the law....
    Oh wait...
  • Extremes (Score:5, Funny)

    by orzetto ( 545509 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:45PM (#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?

  • 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.
  • 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

    • 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 pr
  • by skydude_20 ( 307538 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:47PM (#21270447) Journal
    Brannigans Law
  • 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: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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 fli
  • How about (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chabil Ha' ( 875116 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:49PM (#21270471)
    the law of common decency?
  • 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.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:57PM (#21270607) Journal
    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 (Score:2, Insightful)

    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".
  • by P3NIS_CLEAVER ( 860022 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:57PM (#21270619) Journal
    Why wouldn't they just follow protocols used by ships in international waters?
    • by Buran ( 150348 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:03PM (#21270701)
      'Cause that's not what the treaty says must be done.
    • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <{atd7} {at} {}> on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:27PM (#21271107) Homepage
      I think part of the problem (as listed in the summary) is that while a ship in international waters usually has a clearly defined nationality, the ISS has a bunch of parts originating from different countries, so the question is what is the nationality of the "ship". It sounds like the issue is not difficult when dealing with spacecraft of a single nationality (for example, the Space Shuttle.)
    • Why don't they simply carry their passports around, making sure that they get a stamp everytime they enter or leave a compartment? They should also set up extradition treaties in case the American murderer of the Russian cosmonaut hides in the Japanese compartment. Of course, if he manages to reach the American compartment, where he can't be extradited, the Russians may decide to decompress the station, which would force the murderer into the Russian escape pod. Sounds like a space soap opera, and more b
  • heh (Score:4, Funny)

    by B3ryllium ( 571199 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:57PM (#21270621) Homepage
    In Space, no one can hear you scream Habeus Corpus. :)
    • In Space, no one can hear you scream Habeus Corpus. :)

      At least not in the US where I believe Habeus Corpus has been suspended in a few instances, or am I wrong? Its difficult to keep abreast of the US's slow descent into a police state...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by vertinox ( 846076 )
      In Space, no one can hear you scream Habeus Corpus. :)

      I can only imagine the expression on the face of the government agent who tries to water board someone for the first time.

  • by Thyamine ( 531612 ) <> on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @02:58PM (#21270633) Homepage Journal
    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?
    • by p0tat03 ( 985078 )

      If two astronauts from two different countries have an altercation in a completely different nations module, who's legal authority is applicable?

      That one should be obvious - the owning nation's law. If an Aussie and a Brit get into a bar fight in an American bar, clearly American law prevails. Whatever exceptions to this case would clearly follow established precedent in terms of extradition and whatnot - this isn't the first time two non-citizens have broken the law on foreign soil (or deck plating, as it were).

    • by dpilot ( 134227 )
      Then there's

      * Astronaut V is in Nation W's module, and shoots astronaut X, who is in Nation Y's module, but the bullet had to go through Nation Z's module to get there. I forgot the nation that manufactured the gun and bullets, but that shouldn't matter. (None of this should.)
  • by ishmalius ( 153450 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:00PM (#21270655)
    We used to joke that, technically, cosmonauts who launched from Baikonur and landed at Canaveral were exactly that.
  • well its *called* (Score:3, Interesting)

    by myowntrueself ( 607117 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:03PM (#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...

  • by lpangelrob ( 714473 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:03PM (#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.
  • Obligatory (Score:4, Funny)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:06PM (#21270747)
    In Soviet Russian module, the Party determines the laws.
  • So far its only tenent is that "No one can hear you scream," but they're working on it.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:14PM (#21270883) Homepage

    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.

  • We bought this defribulator in Cuba so, as a US citizen, it is illegal for you to use it.
  • The applicable law is the law of the country whose module generates the oxygen.
  • Chuck Norris [] is the law. Everywhere.
  • Whoever has the biggest vacuum tube on their ray gun.
  • European law (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bromskloss ( 750445 ) <auxiliary,address,for,privacy&gmail,com> on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:25PM (#21271073)

    a piece of Europe

    As if Europe even was a single country with a common law. (Err, a law in common, that is.)

    Things seem to be going that way, unfortunately (EU, get out of Sweden now, please!), but we're not there yet.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:59PM (#21271557)
    For example, should stem cell research (legal in some countries, illegal in others) be permitted. Could it be done in, say, a european module, but not an american one. How about growing GM crops
  • Europe? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spyfrog ( 552673 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @06:54PM (#21274025) Homepage
    "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".

    Ok, anybody besides me that see an obvious question regarding this: which European states law apply in ESA's sections? There is no "Europe" when it comes to laws - each country have their own.
    So which is it? English? French? German? Dutch? Italian? Spanish? Or another European law?
  • by delong ( 125205 ) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @07:12PM (#21274245)
    It's even worse than that. The ESA sections really muddy up the waters. The ESA and the EU have no legal personality in international law. Which member nation of the ESA would have legal responsibility? All, or none? Who the hell knows.
  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @05:41AM (#21279115)
    A good start.

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