Who do you call when there’s a crime in space?
NASA is investigating the first ever alleged crime in space.
Astronaut Anne McClain has been accused of not leaving her domestic troubles on Earth and accessing (without authorisation) her estranged spouse’s bank account via the internet during a mission onboard the International Space Station.
Ms McClain admits to taking a little peek but says it was authorised and only because the couple’s finances were still inter-twined. Her ex-spouse disagreed and has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
So that got us thinking … what law applies in space when someone does something bad?
The short answer is … for a US astronaut aboard the International Space Station with a US alleged victim, then US criminal jurisdiction applies of course.
However, this got us thinking again … with over 40+ nations currently engaged in space activities, what would happen if the alleged perpetrator was Australian?
Space, like the high seas and Antarctica, is considered res communis – meaning it belongs to everyone and to no one, and no one country can lay claim to it. But that doesn’t mean the high seas, Antarctica and outer space are lawless.
Space is governed by five international treaties, known informally as the Outer Space Treaty, the Rescue Agreement, the Liability Convention, the Registration Convention and the Moon Agreement. All are under the control of the delightfully named United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs.
Under the Outer Space Treaty, nations are responsible for their space activities and are liable for damage caused by their space objects.
Similarly, criminals committing unlawful acts in space are generally subject to the law of the country of which they are a citizen, or the country aboard whose registered spacecraft the crime was committed.
Simple really. Just ask the MiB!