What is Metalaw?

According to Dr. Ernst Fasan, Metalaw is “the entire sum of legal rules regulating relationships between different races in the universe.” Metalaw is the “first and basic ‘law’ between races” providing the ground rules for a relationship if and when we establish communication with or encounter another intelligent race in the universe. Dr. Fasan envisioned these rules as governing both human conduct and that of extraterrestrial races so as to avoid mutually harmful activities.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

FOLLOW ON FACEBOOK

Due to time demands, I have moved my blogging activities to the Facebook page for CeleJure Consulting.  For the time being, this blog will not be updated.  Follow me on Facebook!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Is Asteroid Mining Even -- Legal? No.

In a few hours, a new company called Planetary Resources will unveil a much-anticipated venture to mine asteroids for precious metals and other resources.  Sounds rather Buck Rogers, and most if not all of the press coverage has focused on whether space mining would be feasible either technologically or financially.  (Another company called Moon Express has announced plans for similar mining on the Moon.)  So far as I can tell, nowhere in the press coverage (or in this just-released feasibility study by Cal Tech) is the legality of such a venture addressed.  Are extraterrestrial resources just there for the taking, by those who can get to them first and bring them back to Earth?

This is not an insignificant question, because at first blush the answer would appear to be a resounding “no.”  And the neglect of this question in the current excitement over these ventures is a little puzzling, given that just a few weeks ago a legislative proposal to create a Wild West-style land rush in outer space received a lot of attention.  The legal questions presented by both stories are the same.  International law makes no distinction between extraterrestrial resources, whether they be on the Moon, Mars or other planets, or asteroids.  And if these resources are really just there for the taking, there would be no need for a proposal such as the so-called “Space Settlement Prize Act.”

Our starting point is the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of 1967, which is established international law and has been ratified by 100 states parties, including all of the major spacefaring nations, and an additional 26 nations that have signed but not ratified the treaty.   

On its face, the OST prohibits nations from asserting sovereignty over the Moon and other celestial bodies.  In fact, Article II states that "Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”  The OST’s ban on national appropriation is imputed to private citizens of the states parties.  In other words, states parties have a legal obligation under international law to stop their citizens from doing what the national government itself cannot do under the OST.  In fact, Article VI of the treaty requires states parties to supervise and regulate the spacefaring activities of private entities over which they have national jurisdiction.

Even more significantly, the OST declares the Moon, the planets and all celestial resources to be “the province of all mankind,” a frequently used concept in international law.  In other words, these resources are part of the celestial commons that belong to all of humanity, to be held in trust for future generations.  Article I of the treaty states that “The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.”

That isn’t all the OST has to say on this point, however.  Under Article VII, states parties are “internationally liable for damage to another State Party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons by such object or its component parts on the Earth, in air or in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies.”  Further, Article IX requires states parties to “conduct all their activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other States Parties to the Treaty.”  The same article prohibits nations or entities under their control from doing anything resulting in "harmful contamination" of the Moon or other celestial bodies (begging the question of what constitutes harmful contamination, of course).

The thread of my argument here is obvious:  if the celestial commons “belongs” to all nations and peoples of Earth, no one entity or government can unilaterally appropriate those resources for themselves, and national governments have an international obligation to stop such activity under their control.   Especially if that appropriation consists of grabbing a 100-foot asteroid containing up to $25-50 billion in platinum, and keeping the proceeds for oneself and one’s investors.

ENFORCEMENT

Unfortunately, the OST is not self-enforcing.  Article IX merely allows states parties that believe they will be harmed by the activity of another state party to request “consultation.”  In the United States, at least, nothing would appear to stop anyone of any nationality from filing an action in U.S. federal court seeking a declaratory judgment that the U.S. federal government has an international legal obligation to stop such activity or to regulate it in some manner.  Further, other states parties could seek enforcement against a government in an international legal forum with recognized jurisdiction. 

Finally, another treaty, known as the Liability Convention, is generally regarded as fleshing out the bare-bones liability provisions in the OST mentioned above.  However, with some creative lawyering, it may provide a cause of action for redress for those opposed to the unilateral appropriation of celestial resources.  I’ll save that for another day.

All of the above is not intended to suggest that we should not eventually exploit the resources of outer space for the betterment of all of humanity.  But such exploitation must occur under a recognized international regime, perhaps one modeled on the sea bed mining provisions of the Law of the Sea Treaty.  Whatever the eventual legal regime, it must ensure that celestial resources are not merely exploited by those with the means to do so and for their benefit alone, but are indeed treated as the “province of all mankind.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

And suddenly, exoplanets galore!

(Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
The trickle of new exoplanet discoveries is quickly becoming a torrent, and the day of the announcement of the first true Earth analog appears to be rapidly approaching.  In just the last month or so:

Dec. 5, 2011: The first habitable Super-Earth is discovered in orbit around a sun-like star (close, but way too big to be considered "Earth-like").

Dec. 20, 2011:  The first Earth-sized exoplanets are discovered (although we don't yet know if they are terrestrial planets like Earth, or gaseous like Neptune).

And just today, two separate paradigm-bending stories:

(Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
Virtually every star in our galaxy has planets AND . . . Astronomers announce the discovery of a single planetary system with THREE terrestrial planets, all smaller than Earth . . . but not in the star's habitable zone.

Will the announcement of the first true Earth analog, a terrestrial planet located in the habitable zone of a star more or less like our Sun, occur in 2012?

Like many others, my guess is yes, it will.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Will computers replace lawyers?

American lawyers have expressed concern for years regarding their work being outsourced to overseas firms.  Now there may be a new threat to the profession's future, not just in America but in all jurisdictions (including the common law jurisdictions to which American legal work is currently being sent):  computers that do a day of lawyer's work in a few seconds.  


I guess if any extant advanced technological civilizations in our galaxy are (as Seth Shostak suggests) machines, they don't need lawyers . . . 


Source and Credit:  ICT Results


European researchers have created a legal analysis query engine that combines artificial intelligence, game theory and semantics to offer advice, conflict prevention and dispute settlement for European law, and it even supports policy.

European law is complex, many layered and expanding. There are thousands of regulations, so many that compliance is difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

While harmonization is underway, the process itself demands that individuals, companies and law firms often have to relearn the system.

Meanwhile, areas like intellectual property rights (IPR) and digital rights regulation that seek to combat piracy are becoming evermore complex to understand and apply consistently across Europe.

Thankfully, help is at hand. The ALIS project has developed a computerised platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI), game theory and semantic technologies to ‘understand’ and track the regulations in a large, and expanding area of expertise – in this case IPR.

ALIS sought to develop a working system in IPR to tackle the fundamental technological challenges before expanding it to more areas later on.

The system is much more than a simple database of relevant legal regulations. It uses insights from game theory to help contentious parties come to an amicable agreement, either through conflict prevention or dispute resolution, and it can assist lawmaking too.

Game theory looks at how strategic interactions between rational people lead to outcomes reflecting real player preferences. In the Ultimatum game, for example, two players decide how a sum is to be divided. The proposer suggests what the split should be, the responder either can accept or reject this offer. But if the responder rejects the split, both players get nothing.

Researchers have found that often proposers offer 50:50, even though the responder might accept less. They also found that responders always reject splits where they get less than 20 percent. In economics, this would be considered irrational, because the responder loses too, but this illustrates that fairness is a very important element in strategic interactions.

These types of interactions can be rendered mathematically thanks to game theory, and the concept is so powerful that it has migrated from applied mathematics to social sciences like economics, political science, international relations and philosophy, as well as hard sciences like biology, engineering and computer science.

Game theory can be used to develop algorithms that find equilibria in games, markets, computational auctions, peer-to-peer systems, security and information markets. And, now with ALIS, it is available for legal systems too. This concept of equilibria supports conflict prevention, dispute resolution and offers decision support for lawmaking.

A key factor in the system is its test for regulatory compliance. This is very powerful. It can help citizens, companies and lawyers quickly scan the relevant legal corpus to discover if they are compliant. It is a key factor for the other roles in the ALIS system as well.

For conflict prevention, dispute resolution and lawmaking, the ALIS first establishes if the parties, or the proposed legislation, are compliant with current law. Once compliance is established, the system can present a series of options based on an analysis of the potential conflict or dispute, or it can provide information to further assist lawmakers to formulate policy.

Similarly, the tool aims to rapidly speed up the work done by lawyers, helping to resolve relatively straightforward cases faster, so they can concentrate on more complex problems.
Here, semantic technologies play a key role by establishing a machine-readable annotation of copyright law for several European countries. 

The ALIS project’s exploitation and dissemination activities are noteworthy. Mailings, brochures, as well as many presentations and meetings have taken place between potential customers and beneficiaries of the ALIS system.

There are two primary customers or users; software providers who could benefit from the methods, logic and innovative information processing techniques developed within ALIS; and legal service providers, lawyers, solicitors and others who can use the system to keep them up to date with a rapidly evolving legal framework and speed up query handling for clients.

In all, ALIS has created a platform that should help ensure legal compliance by citizens, companies and lawyers. And it will help improve the efficiency of justice, by contributing to conflict prevention and dispute resolution, keeping cases out of overworked courts.

But ALIS’ true genius is that it creates a powerful technological platform to access legal knowledge, a platform that will become stronger over time.

Source and Credit:  ICT Results

Friday, February 4, 2011

Metalaw, and the social, behavioral and economic sciences

Two scholars whose work may have a bearing on the future development of Metalaw  --  Kathryn Denning of York University and Margaret Race of the SETI Institute -- have published a paper on the website of the National Science Foundation entitled Rethinking Life:  Astrobiology and the Future of the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBES).  The paper explores the question of how advances in astrobiology research will affect humanity, and proposes that the field offers SBES researchers (including those in law) an opportunity to forge an interdisciplinary community to address the profound questions that astrobiology poses to humanity.

The urgency of the issues Denning and Race address is underscored, of course, by this week's announcement of the discovery by the Kepler space telescope of more than 1200 exoplanet candidates, including 54 orbiting in the habitable zone of their parent stars -- of which 5 are approximately the size of Earth.  In other words, we may be on the verge of discovering the first reasonably Earth-like exoplanet.  Remarkable, considering it has only been 16 years since the discovery of the first extrasolar planetary system.

"[A]strobiology is causing us to rethink life itself, in myriad ways," Denning and Race write. "And whether or not a detection of extraterrestrial life is imminent  –  as many scientists expect it to be  –  this re-visioning will involve SBES in every way imaginable.  The rate of life-related discoveries is rapidly outpacing our human frameworks. Accordingly, this area  –  involving planetary protection, UN conventions and treaties concerning  space, metalaw, and bioethics  –  is  an incredible opportunity for SBES researchers: their perspectives and contributions are greatly needed."

Denning and Race argue persuasively that astrobiology and related studies in the SBES are about more than extraterrestrial life:  "We live in the Anthropocene era: we are changing our world, and with it, ourselves, at an
unprecedented rate. The culture/nature divide, such as it was, is collapsing. Through research within  and connected to astrobiology, we are also coming to understand planetary scale phenomena,  the limits of habitability, and life’s fragility on Earth. What are the likely impacts upon human consciousness, behaviour, culture, and social systems? How should they be studied?"

Among other measures, Denning and Race call for the integration of perspectives from fields as diverse as ethics, religion, law, science policy, anthropology, moral philosophy, international governance and the history of science.  To this end, Denning and Race have started a NASA Astrobiology Institute Focus Group on Astrobiology & Society.

"We need researchers who can address the issues that will arise from humanity’s altered views and relationships with life... in whatever diverse forms we find it," Denning and Race conclude.  "This is, in the end, a matter of utmost practicality. The decisions humanity makes  now about how we choose to relate to life, and to the solar system and space beyond, will affect all our descendants."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Envoys of mankind

Having discovered them over the holidays, I've been spending some time reading George Robinson's 1986 book Envoys of Mankind and another paper he published twenty years later, in 2006.

George Robinson is a retired general counsel to the Smithsonian Institution, and before that was a lawyer for both NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.  He also earned the first doctoral degree in space law, from McGill University.

An early critic of Andrew Haley and his early formulations of Metalaw (primarily because of Haley's reliance on the natural law theory of jurisprudence), Robinson later turned his attention to the subject of humanity's future in space, in particular its legal future.  Envoys of Mankind and the more recent paper I'm studying (G.S. Robinson, Transcending to a Space Civilization:  The Next Three Steps toward a Defining Constitution, Journal of Space Law 32 (2006) 147-175) concern what legal principles will govern future human space societies.  The recent paper also touches upon the need to consider the legal ramifications of humanity's transhuman future, and the impact that converging technologies such as artificial intelligence, bioengineering, and robotics will have on human spacefaring activities.  Robinson hasn't forgotten his early interest in Andrew Haley, Ernst Fasan and Metalaw, but seems to have softened considerably in his evaluation of Metalaw compared to his views in the 1960s and 1970s.

Robinson's writing, while often densely written and at times difficult to digest in one or even two readings, is loaded with intriguing nuggets for anyone interested in Metalaw.  I've added the book to my list of in-depth treatments of Metalaw, and the 2006 paper to my list of further reading related to Metalaw.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Metalaw, Lawyers, and the Giggle Factor

Back in 2004, radio astronomer Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute predicted that, if intelligent life existed elsewhere in our Milky Way galaxy, we would probably detect radio or other transmissions from such a civilization within 20 years, or by the middle of the 2020s.

That prediction was back in the news last week when this story ran about the rapidly accumulating scientific evidence for extraterrestrial life.  We're not there yet, but practically every month brings word of some new discovery that supports the Copernican suspicion that life on Earth -- perhaps even intelligent life -- is not some one-off freak accident but rather a relatively common phenomenon in our vast universe.

I also recently read this excellent 2005 paper by social psychologist Albert Harrison, now a professor emeritus at UC Davis, discussing the occupational hazards that social scientists and others face when wading into the scientific study of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

As the pace of discovery accelerates and the evidence accumulates, representatives of one field of human social endeavor, in particular, are conspicuously absent:  Lawyers.

Unfortunately, you can count on one hand the number of lawyers who have published or presented papers on the subject of Metalaw in the last 30-40 years (not including my own). Most of the generative (as opposed to merely descriptive) work on Metalaw has been done by a relative handful of individuals. As I've speculated before, I suspect this is due in part to lack of career opportunities for either academic or practicing attorneys with a professional interest in Metalaw.

Harrison suggests some other reasons why this may be, including lack of funding and the "giggle factor."  While his paper is addressed primarily to social scientists such as sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and political scientists, his reasons are probably equally applicable to the field of legal science.

You can read for yourself Harrison's suggestions as to why there are not more social scientists working in the SETI field, and I would encourage you to do that.  I want to focus just briefly on a few of the subjects relevant to SETI that he suggests can be illuminated by social science (and I am including approaches to legal science in that field, at least those that take an empirical, fact-based approach to the law -- which are the only approaches that make any rational sense to me).

In particular, lawyers could join other social scientists in studying potential long-term consequences of detection (Harrison specifically mentions "meta-law" as one possible area of exploration) as well as the potential nature of advanced technological civilizations.  Here and elsewhere in the paper, Harrison warns of the dangers of anthropomorphism when contemplating "the nature of unknown civilizations that are radically different from our own."  One viable approach to this, Harrison suggests, is to "seek principles of behavior that are 'universal' or 'deep' in the sense that they hold true across species, cultures, and historical epochs."

This is exactly the approach to Metalaw that I urged in my own paper that I presented at the 39th IAA Symposium on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, held concurrently with the 61st International Astronautical Congress in Prague in September 2010.  It's also an approach urged by others, including George Robinson, former counsel to the Smithsonian Institution.


There were a lot of space lawyers at the 61st IAC in Prague earlier this year, meeting concurrently with the International Institute of Space Law.  Unfortunately, few of them evidently have an interest in Metalaw.


Maybe it's the giggle factor.