Report: “Space Data Ethics: The Next Frontier in Responsible Leadership”

1 December 2023
14 pages

Executive Summary

This is a position paper in support of a recommendation to develop principles in space data ethics, made to the US National Space Council (NSpC) by its Users’ Advisory Group’s (UAG) subcommittee for climate and climate benefits. The author is a member of the NSpC UAG as its only ethicist.

Space data ethics is different from existing data ethics in its various forms, which include business-data ethics (e.g., protecting privacy), research ethics (e.g., against falsifying data), AI ethics (e.g., guarding against machine-learned bias), open-data ethics (e.g., for citizen science), and others.

For instance, Earth observation (EO) data from space doesn’t typically raise the same concerns about individual privacy and harms that are central to data ethics, though in some cases it could (e.g., whether to reveal the location of uncontacted, indigenous tribes in the Amazon, or other sensitive or competitive location-based data). Instead, space data ethics may both overlap and conflict with the various forms of existing data ethics given the wide-ranging applications of space data, from science to national security and more.

To handle and share space data responsibly, work is urgently needed to anticipate the possible harms—which may be different from ordinary data-ethics failures—and develop a new ethics framework specifically for space data. To the best of our knowledge, no one else has identified or framed the problem this way or is conducting such a study, so this is a real opportunity to demonstrate responsible leadership.

This position paper only begins to lay out the justification for the above recommendation and is not a comprehensive discussion itself, which would be part of the investigation recommended by the NSpC UAG subcommittee on climate and societal benefits.

Please see NASA's site here for the full report, partially funded by the US National Science Foundation, award no. 2208458, and supported by the US National Space Council's Users' Advisory Group. Any statements and findings in the report do not necessarily reflect the positions of any organization or person other than the author.

Contact Us

Patrick Lin, Ph.D., Director
Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group
Philosophy Department
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407
palin [at]


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