As a species, we first successfully went to space on April 12, 1961, and landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. The International Space Station was built in 1998. We have been going to space for over half a century, and we are just now seeing what could be the first space crime. Anne McClain, a NASA astronaut, has been accused of identity theft by her ex-wife, Summer Worden. The alleged crime happened from a NASA computer on the ISS.
Legal channels can handle this situation, but it has brought up legal questions about other crimes in space. This has made people think about what to do about more serious crimes in space such as murder. More countries and private companies are heading to space and it will just increase the chance of space crime happening again.
Astronaut Anne McClain was accused of accessing her bank account during a 6-month mission by her ex-wife Summer Worden. Investigators investigated the situation after she filed her complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. McClain has agreed that she accessed the bank on the NASA computers, but only to do their finances. The NASA Inspector General investigators have questioned her about the allegations.
In a public statement, NASA talked about Lt. Col. Anne McClain’s professional career. She flew combat missions in the Middle East during her military career and did great on her recent ISS mission. She is one of NASA’s top astronauts. NASA would not talk about the identity fraud allegations because it is against their rules to discuss private matters. The case is being handled by America since the two involved are American citizens. This is simple, but it raised questions. What if this happened with international astronauts in space?
The identity fraud incident brings to light the lack of a thorough framework for international space law. The International Space Station is governed by the Intergovernmental Agreement treaty. This treaty gives the country that the astronaut is from jurisdiction over the alleged crime. If the accused and victim are from different countries, issues can arise. Commercial vessels from private companies don’t have a framework even started. Since the first space crime happened between two Americans there is no legal issue this time. In the ISS, the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Partner States have jurisdiction over all personnel and flight elements.
For law in other parts of space, there is no clear way to handle it. The five treaties that govern space are called The Outer Space Treaty, Registration Convention, Moon Agreement, Rescue Agreement and the Liability Convention. None of these treaties take into account what happens when an incident occurs between two nations on a space station. The only way a commercial company can be covered by these treaties is if the company comes from a government. The United States can use the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction, which is for locations that no country owns. The problem is that it only covers certain crimes. The drafting of international codes are needed as space becomes populated.