Outer Space Real Estate Wars May Signal a Beginning of Outer Space Privacy Disputes

Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck, P.C.
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A recent article from CNN reported on SpaceX and Amazon sparring over their competing satellite-based internet business. The article reports that at the center of the dispute is “a recent attempt by SpaceX to modify its license for Starlink, a massive constellation of internet satellites, of which SpaceX has already launched more than 900.”  SpaceX reportedly wants to put a few thousand of its satellites in a lower altitude than previously planned or authorized, which Amazon alleges would put them in the way of the constellation of internet satellites it has proposed, called Project Kuiper, and thus increase the risk of a collision in space and increase radio interference for customers.  Amazon argues that it designed its constellation (which has an FCC license, but no launches yet) around the SpaceX constellation, and now SpaceX wants to change the design of its system.  SpaceX has explained that its proposed change in altitude minimizes the risk of collision.  As the CNN article reports: “Putting satellites into lower orbits is generally considered a best practice because, if a satellite were to malfunction, the Earth’s gravity could drag it out of orbit – and away from other satellites – more quickly.”

While the dispute between Amazon and SpaceX is interesting in its own right, it further raises questions about whether our current privacy and intellectual property regimes are ready for what lies ahead?  In 2019, my partner, Marty Zoltick, and I wrote a chapter on this as it pertains to privacy and data protection laws – “The Application of Data Protection Laws in (Outer) Space.” Among the topics addressed in our chapter are: (i) what is outer space, and where do the laws of nation states end; (ii) what laws and treaties apply in outer space; (iii) what are the shortcomings of existing data protection regulations; and (iv)  what new international laws, rules, and/or regulations are needed to more clearly establish which data protection laws apply when personal data is processed in air and space.

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