Application of Satellite Remote Sensing:
Regulatory Issues & Judicial Developments
Assistant Professor - Law
Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and
Technology (FUUAST), Karachi, Pakistan
Email: [email protected]
International Conference on Space (ICS-2014)
12-14 November, 2014, Islamabad, Pakistan
Page 1
• Abstract
• Introduction
• Satellite Remote Sensing in Pakistan
• Regulation of Satellite Remote Sensing
• Legal Issues in Satellite Remote Sensing
• Supreme Court of Pakistan on Satellite
Remote Sensing
• Conclusion
Page 2
We are imaging the planet to save the planet.
Will Marshall, CEO & Co-founder of Planet Lab
Page 3
Technological advancements in application of satellite remote sensing have
provided tremendous benefits to the modern society ranging from weather
forecasting to disaster management. But these technological innovations have
also been a major catalyst for legal implications and subsequently paved the
way for legislation. Similarly, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful
Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) has developed an international set of
norms, Principles Relating to Remote Sensing of the Earth from Outer Space,
which provide a primary guideline for policy making on the satellite remote
sensing. By contrast with advanced space-faring nations, Pakistan is also
using remote sensing technology in various disciplines for socio-economic
development of the country. However, there is no law and policy in Pakistan
to regulate the collection, access, distribution, sharing, archiving, and legal
validity of remote sensing data. In view of the legal issues faced by the public
and private sector, it is imperative to develop an adequate legal framework at
the national level to deal with legal implications involved in application of
satellite remote sensing.
Page 4
• Definition:
– Remote sensing is a method in which
electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is used for
collection and analysis of information of about the
earth (or other physical objects) without making
physical contact.
• Term:
– A geographer, Ms. Evelyn Pruitt, working with the
Office of Naval Research, the United States, coined
the term ‘remote sensing’ in the mid 1950s.
Page 5
Introduction (cont…)
• The origins of remote sensing can be tracked to the fourth
century BC when Aristotle in the quest of explaining the motion
of the planets, used a camera obscura (an instrument explained by
Aristotle in his Problems but perhaps known even earlier).
• In 1850s the aerial photography was introduced and to some
extent cameras were carried into the air by pigeons, kites and
• In 1903, the piloted airplanes paved the way for remote sensing
through camera which later served as sophisticated tool for
intelligence gathering through aerial surveillance. In the same
period, the military value of remote sensing through aerial
photography was significantly proven, particularly in the World
I and the World War II.
Page 6
Introduction (cont…)
• The first ever remote sensing instrument was used in the
Vanguard 2 which was launched in February, 1959,
specifically designed to observe the cloud distribution of the
Earth but unfortunately its images were uninterruptable.
• Later on, in April, 1960, TIROS 1 (Television and Infra-Red
Observation Satellite), first ever meteorological satellite, was
successfully launched as a part of the meteorological
• However, with launch of LANDSAT 1 satellite in 1972, the
era of remote sensing systems was officially opened to the
scientific community and subsequently by LANDSAT 2, in
1975, and LANDSAT3, in l978.
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Introduction (cont…)
• On October 4, 1957, the ‘space age’ officially
came into existence when the former Soviet
Union successfully launched the first artificial
earth satellite, Sputnik 1, in low earth orbit.
• But in the early 1960s, a major breakthrough
was seen when man-made satellites triggered
the remote sensing.
• Prior to 1960s the remote sensing was largely
based on airborne.
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Satellite Remote Sensing in Pakistan
• Like other space-faring nations, Pakistan is also using remote
sensing technology in a wide spectrum of activities,
particularly for catering socio-economic needs of the country.
At present, Pakistan has no remote sensing satellite or earth
observation satellite.
• The SUPARCO, the Pakistan national space agency, is
receiving, processing, storing, sharing and providing satellite
remote sensing data to the government organizations and
private sector. However, at present there is remote sensing
agency in Pakistan empowered under law for providing
remote sensing data to local buyers like in case of India.
Page 9
Regulation of Satellite Remote Sensing
• Civilian remote sensing programmes are
international governmental institutions such as
NASA in the USA, ESA in Europe,
Interkosmos in Russia, CNES in France,
NASDA in Japan, ISRO in India, and Suparco
in Pakistan, etc.
• However, in recent years, a tendency towards
commercialization of remote sensing from
space becomes apparent in the Western world.
Page 10
Legal Issues in Satellite
Remote Sensing
Page 11
Regulation of SRS (Cont…)
The UN General Assembly adopted the UN
Principles Relating to Remote Sensing of the Earth
from Outer Space, on 3rd December 1986 (UNGA
Resolution 41/65). Pakistan adhered to these
Principles in its conduct of satellite remote sensing
activities. The remote sensing principles address
the sensing of Earth from space for purpose of
improving natural resource management, land use
and the protection of the environment.
Page 12
Legal Status of UN Principles on
Remote Sensing
• The Principles on Remote Sensing serve as
general guidelines for conducting remote
sensing from outer space but they are not
• However, no dispute or conflict has arisen
concerning this area and no case law
clarifies the legal application of the
Page 13
Use of Remote Sensing Data in
the Courts
Evidence from satellite remote sensing has been
accepted as evidence in cases before the International
Court of Justice (ICJ) and in growing number of
national courts across the world. For example, in
India, the Supreme of India and the High Courts have
used satellite images as admissible evidence in forest
encroachment cases to ensure compliance with Forest
Conversation Act, 1980. In fact, the Supreme Court of
India has established the Central Empowered
Committee, which is a subsidiary body to review such
Page 14
SRS and Intellectual Property
Commercialization of remote sensing services, data
processing and distribution in the future, will
undoubtedly raise IPR protection issues among other
legal matters. It is important questions pertains to
whether SUPARCO could or should retain jurisdiction
over remote sensing data enhanced in distribution
centers and then sold as derived product, i.e. a map.
Because copyright does not protects data but protects
only its form of expression, it becomes imperative to
define what constitutes protectable expression of
remote sensing data.
Page 15
SRS and Privacy
Depending on the detail of the images, it may be
that the privacy rights of an individual are
breached by satellite earth observation activities.
In general, there is a breach when the data is such
as to identify that individual and disclose personal
information relating to the individual. Public
authorities have a positive obligation to make
available environmental information held by
Page 16
Access to SRS Data
• There is no ‘supervision’ and ‘control’ possible after the
data have been sold. But States wanted guaranteed
access to remote sensing information and this as soon as
possible data concerning its territory, as produced, on a
non-discriminatory basis and on reasonable cost terms.
• The question of accessing remote sensing data depends
on a number of elements, for example on the status of
the entity that wants to access and in which stage of the
remote sensing data acquisition it plans to access.
Page 17
SRS Image as Evidence
Satellite images have been used for verification
purposes and to support the settlement of
environment-related disputes. Satellite images have
been presented in the international court as well as in
the national courts across the world. Starting with
international case, satellite images were introduced in
Mali v. Burkina Faso [1986 ICJ 554, ICJ Reports] where
the Court considered that maps could not constitute a
binding document or a territorial title by themselves,
unless the parties concerned had expressed their
Page 18
SRS Image as Evidence (cont…)
Satellite images were also introduced in a case
concerning maritime delimitation and a question
of territorial boundaries, Qatar v. Bahrain [2001 ICJ
Report] in March, 2001. The dispute concerned the
existence of a natural channel that was later
blocked by the construction of refinery. SPOT data
were used at the hearing for Bahrain, and Landsat
data were used to image the shallow water areas
as a measure of accuracy of the bathymetric charts.
Page 19
Supreme Court of Pakistan
on Satellite Remote Sensing
The Supreme Court in the case Suo Motu Case No.
16 of 2011 [PLD 2013 Supreme Court 443]
Judgment of Supreme Court in the case of Watan
Party and another v. Federation of Pakistan and others
(PLD 2011 Supreme Court 997) directed the
Provincial Board of Revenue to collect information
on the basis of satellite imagery for whole of the
Karachi to identify the encroachments by the landgrabbers.
Page 20
• Use of space-based technology in Pakistan is expanding.
SUPARCO is endeavoring to facilitate its users by significantly
contributing to enhance the pace of socio-economic development
in several sectors through application of space technology.
• The satellite remote sensing market is vibrant while value of
high-resolution images of the Earth from space is increasing day
by day in the public and commercial sector. A growing number
of countries have adopted national laws and internal regulations
governing satellite remote sensing.
• National space laws and policies are meant to implement
international space law norms and to make sure that space
activities do not undermine international obligations and
security interests.
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