International Institute of Space Law

Article

Regulating Remote Sensing in National Space Legislation to Increase Legal Certainty on an International Level

Keywords Space, Law, National, Earth Observation, Remote Sensing
Authors Vincent Seffinga
Author's information

Vincent Seffinga
Department of Law, European University Institute, Villa Salviati, Via Bolognese 156, 50139 Florence, Italy, Vincent.Seffinga@EUI.eu.
  • Abstract

      Whether it is for environmental purposes, by monitoring the Earth’s forests, oceans or the Arctic, or military purposes, such as target selection or troop movements, our modern society has become increasingly dependent on remote sensing activities by satellite; one of the most extensively practised space activities. In addition to these scientific and military uses, a significant commercial remote sensing market has developed predicted to be worth between US$8 and US$15 billion by 2026. Moreover, the technological capabilities of remote sensing satellites are ever improving; for example, with the Airbus Spot 6 and Spot 7 satellites that boast a 70 cm resolution or BlackSky’s Global satellite that boasts a 1 m resolution.
      However, these developments occur against a backdrop of meagre legal regulation of the activity, especially considering how commonplace remote sensing is and the fastpaced technological developments. On an international level, remote sensing activities are primarily addressed through the Remote Sensing Principles under UNGA Resolution 41/65. Yet, the Principles hardly address private entities, the scope is very limited, and the status of the Principles is contentious. In contrast, national space legislation is binding and more apt at keeping up with the developments because it is less complicated to adopt and amend such legislation than to reach consensus within the international community. Nevertheless, few states have actually addressed remote sensing in their national space legislation.
      This paper examines whether the best approach towards creating a stronger framework for regulating remote sensing activities, even on an international level, would be a bottom-up approach through national space legislation. First, it will examine the regulation of remote sensing under international law. Thereafter, this paper will discuss the regulation of remote sensing activities in a selected number of national space legislations, namely France, Germany, and the United States. Third, it will discuss, briefly, the bottom-up approach to international law-making. Finally, in light of the aforementioned considerations this paper will argue that more states should regulate remote sensing activities in their national space legislation, and that this could contribute to create more certainty about remote sensing activities on an international level but will also signal the challenges that such a bottom-up approach will bring with it.

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