Stopping Intentional RFI – Some Additional Thought Post-ABA Space Law Symposium

I attended the ABA Air and Space Law Forum’s Space Law Symposium last week (6/10/2014) at Jones Day law firm in Washington, D.C. There were plenty of interesting panels, including one on radio frequency interference (RFI), that inspired a few follow-up thoughts and points to (re)emphasize from my three part blog last week on the search for concrete enforcement tools to combat intentional RFI with satellites.

Inter-Relationship Between US-EU Tools and ITU Efforts

Efforts are underway to improve and strengthen ITU processes in instances of intentional RFI, however, these efforts are unlikely in the near term to lead to real enforcement “teeth” for the ITU given the largely one-nation, one-vote processes within the 193 member nation ITU. Unilateral action in tandem by the US and EU to enact and implement two concrete enforcement tools, namely (a) including compliance with ITU harmful interference obligations and cooperation with ITU and other processes to halt instances of intentional RFI as an eligibility criteria for trade preference programs like the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP); and (b) imposing sanctions against individuals engaged in intentional RFI by freezing their assets and bank accounts – does not foreclose continuing to seek in parallel stronger ITU obligations and processes. In fact, in addition to providing more immediate “teeth” to stop cases of intentional harmful interference with satellites, these measures taken in tandem by the EU and US may buttress efforts to strengthen processes in the ITU. Countries facing the possibility of “sanctions” measures from the two largest markets in the world may simply prefer to have strengthened ITU governance and enforcement of the issue.

“Multilateralizing” Sanctions

The US and EU can work to expand the GSP eligibility criteria to other industrialized nation’s offering trade preferences, but, the US and EU are the two markets that already contain good governance and human/labor rights-related conditions for eligibility. Additionally, sanctions against individuals can be crafted in a way that does not penalize EU and US satellite companies from business opportunities (e.g. simply go after bank accounts of individuals) and/or efforts can be made to “multilateralize” such sanctions to also eliminate any potential competitive disadvantage to EU and US satellite operators. With predictions made that most intentional RFI is mostly driven by “rogue regimes” into the future, sanctions used for other significant foreign-policy interests may make sense in the case of intentional RFI as well, although the RFI issue may inevitably take a backseat to other higher foreign policy interests in certain cases. Cases of intentional RFI have dramatically increased over the past five years, and although there may be some leveling off very recently this year, it’s use as an anti-democratic, anti-human rights tool will likely continue if further action to curb it is not taken.

Technological Solutions and their Relationship to Concrete Enforcement Tools and ITU Processes

Technological developments continue apace in the fight against intentional RFI. These include enhanced geolocation and carrier ID as well as data sharing in the Space Data Association. These developments will help quicken the cure in cases of unintentional interference but will also help in cases of intentional interference in assigning responsibility and reducing chances for plausible deniability. This in turn could lead to better cooperation by certain administrations with the non-binding ITU processes but also strengthen the case for use of enforcement tools described above when enhanced cooperation from the more definitive, assigned responsibility does not result.

Again, stay tuned for more on stopping intentional RFI in my forthcoming article.

Also, stayed tuned later this week for one more blog (non-RFI related) flowing from the ABA Space Law Symposium.

© Matthew Schaefer. All rights reserved.