The modern satellite communications industry was but a flicker of an idea prior to World War II, yet today, communications satellites serve as crucial hubs in the transmission of vital data that help shrink the world. Technological innovation in the industry after the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik I, the first satellite to successfully orbit the Earth, progressed so rapidly that by 1964, satellites were used to televise portions of the Tokyo Olympics. Furthermore, the rapid development in the years following the launch of Sputnik I possessed an extremely international flavor. As the satellite communications industry grew through a combination of efforts from governmental entities and private enterprise, so too did the burgeoning sector’s need for governance and regulation become apparent, both on a domestic and international level.
Paralleling the rapid and pervasive adoption of satellite communication technology in the latter half of the twentieth century is the explosive growth of internet consumption and the drastic increase in the commoditization of internet users’ personal data over the first two decades of the twenty-first century. With data privacy regulations recently promulgated in both California and Europe, companies of all sorts face an additional regulatory requirement that calls for constant attention in the face of penalties. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enacted by the European Union (E.U.) imposes restrictions on satellite telecommunications players—especially regarding direct-to-home broadcasting, the flow of data to and from a satellite, and the provision of geolocation services. However, the reach of the GDPR is limited and protects mainly European end users of satellite telecommunications infrastructure from the unauthorized use and collection of their personal data by third-party actors. Thus, when viewed outside the scope of the GDPR, the current regulatory landscape concerning the privacy and protection of data transmitted from Earth to one or more satellites and back again lacks comprehensiveness and clarity. Because of the nature of satellite communication, globalization, and inadequate current regulations, the world needs a set of uniform principles to govern the protection of personal data when it is beamed to and from satellites.
Amir Saboorian, Comment, A Brave New World: Using the Outer Space Treaty to Design International Data Protection Standards for Low- Earth Orbit Satellite Operators, 84 J. Air L. & Com. 575 (2019).