Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A ludicrous law

Stuff, covering the select committee hearings into the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Bill, has finally called attention to the violence it does to our freedom of expression:

New Zealand is one step closer to entering the space race, but a proposed new law to regulate rocket launches could spell a leap backward for freedom of information, opponents say.

A clause in the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Bill would makes it an offence to take a photo or make any record of a space craft that crashes. Government approval would be needed to take photos or record what happened.

Head of Journalism at Massey University James Hollings said: "It's a completely ludicrous clause because what it means is, if some company screws up and is careless and drops something on a city, we're not allowed to talk about it. It's just silly."

I called attention to this "feature" of the law back when the consultation draft of the bill was released last year, and its much worse than Hollings suggests. This odious clause doesn't just prevent taking photos of rocket debris, but of anything in a debris recovery area. So, if a rocket (or just a US satellite) happens to fall nearby, and your house is part of the "debris recovery area", then you can go to jail if you take photos of yourself. Or your cat. You could even go to jail for making a video call. Which is simply absurd.

(At this stage I think its worth pointing out that debris recovery areas are likely to be large. The debris field for the Columbia disaster was 240 miles long. So people are going to be in these areas, and their rights are going to be infringed).

Rocket Lab says this clause is required to protect their intellectual property rights. That's bullshit. As I pointed out last year, we don't assign this level of legal protection to the government: it is not a crime as such merely to photograph things inside the heart of the Waihopai spy base (it may be a crime if you do so with intent to harm "national security", but the mere act of taking a photo is not in itself criminal). And that's the way it should be. There may be harms which can come from photographing rocket debris after an accident - but they need a tighter law than this. And protecting the intellectual property interests of a foreign company (or the "national security" interests of a hostile foreign power) is an insufficient justification for this level of infringement.