The Off Planet Security Industry – A Space Oddity?
Geoff Moore, CTO Red Solutions, discusses the future of the security industry with honourable mentions to space exploration and The Force Awakens…
“The prospect of handing over policing to private security companies – maybe the same ones who we imagined might be already monopolising the space security business – seems as scary as a Rancor Pit and smells as bad as the inside of a tauntaun.” – Geoff Moore
It would not come as any surprise to discover that many others in this bizarre industry share at least some of their fascination for the topic with their kids, the same way I do with mine. We spot cameras in hotel lobbies together, chat about unusual intercom panels on the street and even make fun of badly installed equipment we see when on holiday. It’s really rather sad (for all of us) but I suppose if I were a plumber we would be making small talk about toilets instead.
So, while standing in the queue for The Force Awakens a while back, my twelve year old daughter and I began a conversation that stuck in my head and helped to dislodge a collection of old ideas that have been festering somewhere at the back of my subconscious for quite a while.
Before I get into the main thrust of things, a brief note on the structure of The Empire: where are the police?
We can see stormtroopers all over the place, and clearly there’s a command structure, but the differentiation between police and military does not seem to exist. Let’s bear that in mind for later.
I wonder whether any crimes have been committed in space yet. Petty pilfering of confectionery items aboard the ISS perhaps, or maybe a case of minor assault between cosmonauts after a few months in close confinement aboard a Soyuz station when the rations of vodkas have been depleted? I’m sure that if anything did occur it would have been minor and was probably handled within the confines of corporate or military disciplinary procedures rather than by invoking any laws of state, and at the moment this really is the only rational option.
For a start, which (if any) laws could be applied in space? Since space stations do not sit in geostationary orbit, we can’t apply the rules of the nation above who’s airspace the crime was committed, because that’s constantly changing. The conventions of the sea require that the laws of a vessel’s flag nation apply whilst traveling in international waters, and for now we might consider a similar arrangement in space, but that makes is hard to account for multinational collaborative missions, where everyone will need to agree beforehand which country is going to be in charge – a difficult pill to swallow for some, I am sure.
How will jurisdictions be defined, and how in turn can this be policed? Whilst the world is round, we only live on its surface, allowing for a simple two dimensional arrangement of borders on maps. How will we cope with three dimensional space, widely dispersed colonies and the emptiness of space in between?
As we begin to colonise the solar system we will inevitability establish common platforms off-world – refueling depots, supply posts, recovery or service outposts and such. With their commercial implications, these facilities are far more likely to be built by the private space companies than by government bodies. These companies might pick and choose their flag nation based on who gives the best tax breaks rather than who has the most equitable set of statutes, or if they’re building bases on unclaimed worlds, who is to say that these planets might not become corporate property, run under the rules of the company handbook instead of by any specific rule of law? In space, nobody can hear you scream…and nobody can see when you’re getting paid below minimum wage, working excessive hours or not receiving health insurance…
In a zero gravity environment the set of priorities we choose may also be completely different to those that might have applied on the surface of the earth. Here on terra firma, we may see the management of waste as being quite important for the environment, but when poorly managed waste could end up floating past your nose you can guarantee that people will want serious consequences to apply to those who don’t follow the rules.
The subject of trade in general is an interesting one when it comes to space. With so few viable routes to market available within the foreseeable future we have to accept the likelihood of monopolisation in off-planet trade, a situation that may remain in place for centuries to come simply because of the lack of options.
Somebody is going to want a cup of coffee in space. NASA is not in the coffee business, and so it makes good sense for them to do what all agencies do and appoint an authorised caffeinated beverage partner. I can’t guess who that might be with any level of certainty, but I’d put money on it being one of today’s top ten coffee brands in North America, and once that company becomes “the rest of the Universe’s best coffee” I think that they will be quite difficult to dislodge. Ok, so maybe the private space companies will also appoint partners, but since the front runners in that game are currently only looking at space tourism or running supply chain operations it is unlikely that they’re going to make a major impact on mass supply into the new off-world territories.
So what about other commodities? Bagels, milk shakes, jeans, security cameras…?
For every “species” that makes it into space, are we going to see a weird form of natural selection, where only those considered to be market leaders will make the grade? Already we see the human equivalent taking place, where only those deemed suitable for astronaut training are allowed into the program. No matter how hard I wish I could go to space, the fact is that I am too old, too poor and too far outside of the selection criteria to be able to find a place aboard the ark. Perhaps this form of profiling is a good thing. Perhaps this type of selection is exactly the same as happened a few hundred years ago when the fit, healthy, young, adventurous types migrated to the colonies in order to find a new life in the new world. Whilst this might have resulted in the evolution of a pioneering spirit it most certainly did not remove the criminal gene from the human species, and as a result of that we continue to have a need for the security industry and a police force wherever we go on the planet. The same will inevitably be the case outside of the atmosphere.
So when NASA (or whomever the leading space agency happens to be at the time) have to decide which market leading security provider to take with them into the new era, who do you think will be in the running? Will it be a shoot-out between the big name brands? None of the companies currently in the top ten list have any more experience building security systems in space than anybody else does, so what will the selection criteria for this provider be? That’s a really important question to answer when we consider that this provider is almost certainly going to remain the market leader in the off-world territories for perhaps centuries to come.
With the level of risk in space and the potentially lethal consequences of a security infringement, should we instead be handing all security over to the military to enforce? That seems to be what’s happened in Star Wars, but is it necessarily the right thing to do in the real world? Military currently implies government, which implies a nation state – which we’ve already established might be difficult to determine in the strange, presently undefined three dimensional map of the galaxy that doesn’t have any laws yet.
Shouldn’t we be really getting serious and multinational about the whole kinetic weapons debate before we start allowing the proliferation of space colonisation? The last thing we want is somebody else deciding for us that it is their right to openly carry something around with them that can punch a hole in the side of our survival capsule. An active shooter in a high school kills people who don’t manage to get out of the way. An active shooter in a space station probably kills everyone, and SWAT is a long way away. The prospect of handing over policing to private security companies – maybe the same ones who we imagined might be already monopolising the space security business – seems as scary as a Rancor Pit and smells as bad as the inside of a tauntaun.
Would we even need weapons in space? There aren’t any mountain lions up there, and unless we’re going to admit that the only reason any of us would take a weapon would be to kill each other, going off-world with weapons would make us into the space monsters science fiction warned us about, effectively preemptively declaring war upon any alien race we might happen to encounter on our travels. Or should we be considering abdicating all enforcement to a robot police force who hold all of the weapons and operate to an internationally agreed set of unwavering moral codes designed to protect our wellbeing? This raises its own set of concerns.
Without a state and without practically enforceable laws, the early years of space exploration are likely to see anomalies and difficult situations arise when people will be forced through circumstances to take the law into their own hands. Who will be the first off-world murderer and the first off-world victim? It’s only a matter of time…