Space oddity?

Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

It had to happen at some point: the first allegation of a criminal act in outer space.

The locus: the international space station orbiting Planet Earth.

The suspect: a NASA astronaut.

The alleged offence: the astronaut in question is accused of hacking into her ex-wife’s bank account from the international space station. Good old fashioned fraud or theft in a hi-tech setting. At last reality is catching up with all those fictional crime dramas set in outer space.

Which criminal law has jurisdiction? Good question.

Thankfully, we have a point of reference: Article VIII of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

Article VIII states:

A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body.

That said, no single State/country or Agency (e.g. NASA or ESA/ASE) controls the international space station. We do have an Inter-governmental Agreement signed in 1998 regulating the space station and Article 22 is particularly relevant (please see the image below):

Under the terms of Article 22, it looks as if the Americans probably have jurisdiction in the matter because one its astronauts is alleged to have committed the crime.

Readers can find a link below to the Inter-governmental Agreement of 1998:

https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/12927-Multilateral-Space-Space-Station-1.29.1998.pdf

Should we be surprised about this development? No, wherever humans go, crimes will undoubtedly be committed. As space travel, exploration and colonisation become more common in the coming decades, expect more stories about crime in outer space and the need to police it effectively.

A link to the story as reported on Sky News can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/is-this-the-first-crime-committed-in-space-11792853

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 30 August 2019

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 30 August 2019