Rocket law could stop you taking photos if a rocket crashes

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck told the select committee hearing last week that a ban on recording a rocket crash ...
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck told the select committee hearing last week that a ban on recording a rocket crash protects his company's intellectual property rights.

New Zealand is one step closer to entering the space race, but a proposed new law to regulate rocket launches could spell a leap backward for freedom of information, opponents say.

A clause in the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Bill would make it an offence to take a photo or make any record of a space craft that crashes. Government approval would be needed to take photos or record what happened. 

Head of Journalism at Massey University James Hollings said: "It's a completely ludicrous clause because what it means is, if some company screws up and is careless and drops something on a city, we're not allowed to talk about it. It's just silly."

Rocket Lab completed qualification and acceptance testing of the first stage booster of the Electron launch vehicle in ...
SUPPLIED

Rocket Lab completed qualification and acceptance testing of the first stage booster of the Electron launch vehicle in December 2016.

Hollings said the law would violate the public's right to freedom of publication and tarnish New Zealand's reputation as a free country.

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"You wouldn't get the same thing through the US because it would violate the first amendment. The public have the right, defined by our courts, to take a photo of something in a public place," he said.

"For the Government to violate that to protect companies is completely outrageous."

The Law Society and Media Freedom Committee both submitted objections to the clause on the grounds it is inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights, which protects the right to freedom of expression.

The bill, which is currently before a select committee, could stop the public and the media making any record of rocket ...
123RF

The bill, which is currently before a select committee, could stop the public and the media making any record of rocket debris crashing to earth.

Submission on the bill were heard by a parliamentary select committee last week.

Newspaper Publishers Association editorial director Rick Neville helped draft a submission against the clause.

Neville said a media blackout on space technology falling from the sky was draconian and ludicrous. 

"If something large falls out of the sky and lands somewhere, it's news," he said. 

"Just imagine what could happen with a rocket landing in Queen Street, [Auckland] and the idea that the minister can declare that area to be a debris recovery site and then make an offence of someone making a sketch, or taking a photograph, or recording what's happened. [The clause is] quite wide and could include news reports.

Minister for communication, economic development, and transport Simon Bridges wouldn't comment on the controversial clause.
ANDY JACKSON/STUFF

Minister for communication, economic development, and transport Simon Bridges wouldn't comment on the controversial clause.

"It's an infringement on the freedom of information. The public will want to know what happened.

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"We don't think it's healthy for that clause to remain in the bill, it's impractical and not realistic," Neville said. 

But the chief executive of New Zealand space company Rocket Lab Peter Beck told the select committee that the clause was needed to protect his company's intellectual property rights and comply with international non-proliferation agreements of rocket technology.

"The technologies used to create a rocket can be copied to create a missile. As a result, the New Zealand and international governments enforce measures to prevent people from being able to copy these technologies.

"What might be a benign photo of a rocket crash could show the inner workings of a turbo pump, which could provide valuable information for other folk with less good intent," Beck said. 

Rocket Lab can launch rockets under an interim contract, signed by Government last year. 

Beck was asked by Labour MP David Cunliffe why a space craft crash was not the same as a car crash.  

"Because with a traffic crash, there's a lot of cars and a lot of people who know how to make cars. There's a very select group of people that are able to develop technology for space launch vehicles," Beck said.  

"All I'm saying is we don't want our competitors seeing the internal workings of our propulsion systems." 

Minister for communication, economic development, and transport Simon Bridges refused to comment on the bill while it was before the select committee. 

"It's important the committee can hear and consider any submissions on the bill and report back to Parliament," a spokeswoman said in a written statement. 

 - Stuff

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