How Much is a Picture Worth? Selected Legal Issues of Sourcing Military Intelligence from Commercial Satellites

Ram S. Jakhu, David Kuan-Wei Chen

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Since the dawn of the space age, the use of space for intelligence gathering has been one of the most predominant uses of outer space. Military intelligence gathering is crucial for national and global stability in many different ways. The availability of satellite imagery from commercial satellites is rapidly improving and becoming more affordable, while the resolution of such imagery is becoming progressively more refined. Thus, in international relations, this is a new and interesting development, which would have significant implications and challenges in contemporary international law, including space law. This paper addresses some of the international legal issues in the sourcing of military intelligence from commercial satellites. Specific topics discussed include, the legitimacy of espionage generally in international law and space law, State responsibility, exposure to criminal and civil liability and to targeting, and individual criminal responsibility. The paper concludes that in principle the current rules of armed conflict are applicable to the collection of military intelligence by commercial satellite operators. However, there is an urgent need for clarification to determine what precisely is applicable and what is not applicable. Therefore, it is recommended that a more elaborate study of at least the suggested issues should be undertaken.

Reproduced with permission
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-180
JournalAnnals of Air and Space Law
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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