Press release:

Cal Poly's Advisor to US National Space Council Recommends First Study on Space Data Ethics

SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA — 26 February 2024 — NASA released a position paper recently, authored by Cal Poly philosophy professor Patrick Lin, in support of an ethics recommendation to the US National Space Council (NSpC) to recognize and start the first study on space data ethics. Dr. Lin was appointed by the White House in 2022 to serve on NSpC's Users' Advisory Group (UAG).

Dr. Lin, also director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group, explained the urgency and reasoning behind the recommendation that was endorsed by the full UAG on its 1 December 2023 meeting:

“Anyone paying attention to technology will already know that data ethics is so crucial today, given misuse and abuse of our personal data, internet click-histories, and more. But not all data is the same, and different ethics frameworks may be needed for different kinds of data.

Space data is unlike the kinds of data we're typically concerned about on Earth with our data-ethics efforts. Space data usually has different subjects of data collection, different purposes, different risks, and more. So, it stands to reason that a different data-ethics framework will be needed for space data.”

“Space data” refers to the information collected from various sources in outer space, such as satellites, telescopes, space probes, and other such instruments. This includes satellite imagery, remote-sensing data, astronomical data, space weather data, space-based navigation and communications data, planetary exploration ethics (as distinct from the study of Earth), and more. The applications for space data are far-ranging and include scientific knowledge, environmental monitoring, agriculture, disaster response, mapping, urban planning, military planning, and so on.

As an example of new risks with space data, consider that much of space data is inherently dual-use. For instance, weather tracking and predictions can help farmers, first-responders, and other people plan for their future; but that data could also be exploited for politics (e.g., in strategically timing a military attack) and for profit (e.g., information asymmetry in water/land negotiations, as well as in competition among farmers). Refugee migration patterns, as seen from space, can help with coordinating humanitarian efforts; but making all such data open and accessible might be problematic, e.g., if an authoritarian government is seeking to track and persecute the same refugees (or political enemies on the run).

The goal of this ethics recommendation is to study—and if warranted, to carve out— a new sub-discipline of space data ethics. The innovative proposal is in line with other pioneering work conducted by Dr. Lin and his ethics group, which is often among the very first to identify, characterize, and explore emerging fields and sub-fields in technology ethics, from nanoethics to human enhancement ethics to robot/AI ethics and more.

The new position paper is available here.

Based at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group is a non-partisan organization focused on emerging technology ethics, including risk, legal, policy, and social impacts of new technologies and sciences.  Please visit us at or


Patrick Lin, Ph.D., Director
palin [at]

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