Law, College of


Date of this Version



Published by von der Dunk in Proceedings of the Forty-Second Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space 373-382 (1999).
Copyright 1999, F.G. von der Dunk. Used by permission.


Earth observation activities using satellites constitute one of the areas of space activities where important developments are presently occurring - most prominently as regards the 'downstream' use and application of data resulting from those activities. The increasing measure of private involvement in the relevant activities and the increasing availability of very high resolution data on the market are especially noticeable from this perspective. Policy issues regarding the use of earth observation data - as partly reflected by, partly resulting in legal parameters - in their tum are of paramount importance also for the earth observation activities in outer space themselves. From a legal point of view, 'Europe' presents an area of special interest here, in view of the large measure of integration of national economies and space activities (including satellite earth observation), in terms of the European Community, ESA and EUMETSAT. Here, three areas may be discerned where serious obstacles for benefiting optimally from earth observation activities still exist: in technology, in the development of applications and in data policy. Some of the technology barriers are being tackled through ESA and EUMETSAT, for example with the Envisat and Metop programs. The development of applications is enhanced through national initiatives and international initiatives such as the European Commission's Centre for Earth Observation (CEO).

So far little analysis is available on earth observation data policy issues in Europe. What is clear, however, is that no investments in the exploitation of the data and in the systems to access earth observation data have been made which would somehow be comparable to those which have been made in the space segment. This lack of interest in the conditions of access to earth observation data, fundamental to the exploitation of earth observation data and the further growth of earth observation markets, poses a serious threat of backfiring at the European satellite earth observation activities 'upstream' .

The CEO undertook various efforts to bring earth observation data customers and earth observation service providers together through its activities in terms of user support, applications support and enabling services. Especially dealing with earth observation data policy was seen by the CEO as helping it to meet its objectives, in terms of enlarging the benefits to be derived from use and application of earth observation data. The EOPOLE project, undertaken by a team of European institutions led by the University College of London's Department of Geography, represents one such effort as it analyses the various earth observation data policy issues in Europe from a political, economical and technical, as well as from a legal point of view. In discussing such issues regarding applications and use of earth observation data gathered from space, a few parameters readily offer themselves for further scrutiny. On the one hand, the practical link of data policy issues to the space activity of earth observation itself also has an interesting legal component. On the other hand, the dominant legal issues in data policy, especially in the European context, are of a more indirect effect when it comes to the space activities proper. In introducing the EOPOLE project, the present paper thus presents an effort to shed more light on the precise relationship between the space activity of earth observation itself and the issues of data policy, and more in particular on the role which legal issues play in this regard, further to the general remarks above.