How will Martian settlements be policed? (designing exo-Earth security & justice)

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EXCERPT . . . Suppose, at some date in the future, Mars has been populated for long enough that at least three generations have been born there; that’s at least three generations who have never known life on Earth. In this scenario, the human population on Mars is also large enough that a person can run into at least three strangers—three people they have never seen before—every day. And, finally, there are enough settlements on Mars—villages, farms, industrial plants, scientific labs, whole cities—that 90 percent of the population has at least one community they have yet to visit in person. What criminal possibilities will emerge in this scenario? Who will be tasked with tracking down vandals, thieves, and saboteurs, let alone rapists and serial murderers?

When similar demographic milestones were reached here on Earth, our methods of policing adapted accordingly. We introduced publicly funded streetlights. We opened police precincts in new, far-flung neighborhoods. We trained a veritable army of professional detectives, including those who would work undercover. We gave cops access to the most advanced technologies we could justify, from hand-me-down military vehicles to drones. We began investigating the police themselves through the implementation of body cameras and the innovation of Internal Affairs. With Martian crime, however, the promise is that we can figure all this out ahead of time. We can design a Mars Police Department before we get there, knowing that we’ll need its investigatory and carceral powers to help keep human settlers safe.

[...] Consider the basic science of crime-scene analysis. In the dry, freezer-like air and extreme solar exposure of Mars, DNA will age differently than it does on Earth. Blood from blunt-trauma and stab wounds will produce dramatically new spatter patterns in the planet’s low gravity. Electrostatic charge will give a new kind of evidentiary value to dust found clinging to the exteriors of space suits and nearby surfaces. Even radiocarbon dating will be different on Mars, Darwent reminded me, due to the planet’s atmospheric chemistry, making it difficult to date older crime scenes. The Martian environment itself is also already so lethal that even a violent murder could be disguised as a natural act. [...]

[...] As it happens, Antarctica has become one of the most widely cited examples of how law enforcement might operate on other worlds. Like Mars, it is a frigid, inhospitable place at the edges of all Earthly jurisdictions. In 1996, under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, the FBI sent one of its agents to the American polar base to investigate an alleged case of assault—perhaps setting a precedent for criminal investigations on Mars. If Red Planet credit unions are ever hit by a series of brazen heists, agents from an FBI field office may suit up and head out to investigate.

Alternatively, an initial American police force on Mars might actually function as an extension of the U.S. Marshals Service. The Marshals are deputies of the U.S. court system and have served overseas as attachés to U.S. consular courts. Because space law is prosecuted, at least for now, by the International Courts of Justice, this suggests that the Marshals could perform an interplanetary role, enforcing the Courts’ jurisdiction. Like the FBI, the Marshals have also been to Antarctica—indeed, the Marshals have technically been to space. In 2001, astronaut James Reilly, an honorary U.S. Marshal, “took his badge and credentials into the heavens” while on a mission aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Reilly also stepped onto the International Space Station during that trip, arguably bringing U.S. Marshal jurisdiction to the I.S.S. itself.

Elsbeth Magilton [...] at the University of Nebraska’s School of Law, explained to me that, “generally speaking, your jurisdiction follows you up. Where are you a citizen? Those are the laws you take with you.” However, she added, jurisdictions in space can also be contracted in advance, effectively agreeing ahead of time which nations’ laws will apply to a certain mission or even to a particular astronaut. It’s also possible that law enforcement on the Red Planet could take the form of corporate security contractors beholden to no terrestrial nation-state.

Consider the headache presented by an Australian national working on Mars for an American space-faring firm that has been registered, for tax purposes, in Ireland. He has confessed to murdering a Japanese seismologist in a non-jurisdictional mountain range somewhere in the Red Planet’s equatorial region. Who on Mars would be responsible for bringing this man to justice?

Today’s go-to theorist for thinking about unusual jurisdictions and interstitial spaces that fall outside traditional definitions of sovereignty is geographer Phil Steinberg. Steinberg [...] at Durham University in the United Kingdom. He has published widely on issues of crime, legality, and the limits of the nation-state, including the true story of a 1970 murder on an “ice island” in the Arctic Ocean that had been turned into a floating U.S. military-research station.

Steinberg walked me through several examples of what he called “criminal law in non-normal spaces.” He reminded me, for example, that it is against international law to operate a vessel at sea without flying a flag. “You have an obligation when at sea to connect yourself with a state,” he explained. “Failure to meet that obligation is not just a crime against states, but a crime against humanity. Because it’s a crime against humanity, any state has a right to prosecute it.”

For Steinberg, this has curious implications for policing on Mars. Were someone to leave their defined jurisdiction—for example, fleeing the American zone to avoid being prosecuted for a crime there—in order to seek refuge in a part of Mars unclaimed by any nation-state, their actions could be classified as a crime against humanity. They would have shed the protection of nations, becoming a kind of planetary stowaway. “Of course,” Steinberg said, “that still leaves the question of whether anyone would really enforce it.”

It seems more likely, he suggested, that authorities would simply let the fugitive go—after all, a criminal fleeing into the undeveloped wilds of Mars to avoid police capture would be functionally committing suicide.

For David Paige, worrying about crime on Mars is not just ahead of its time, it is unnecessary from the very beginning. [...] “The issue,” Paige said, “is that there is going to be so much monitoring of people in various sorts of ways....”


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