SETI and Policy

Many organized entities are likely to try to use news of an ETI detection in ways that serve their purposes. These include promotion of claims of a "cover-up" of information about the detection, advocacy of increased aerospace research, maneuvers to manipulate the release of information about the find for political benefit, and efforts to control or suppress the release of information. Efforts to suppress or control information are unlikely to succeed, given the widespread SETI verification and data-sharing network and the likely ability of most nations to "tune in" an ETI source with modest equipment.

Government bodies will need to respond to news of an ETI detection. Most have no policy or mechanisms in place for responses, and could benefit from discussion now of possible actions to be taken in the event. One existing agreement on actions to be taken by SETI researchers in the event of a detection is widely endorsed. However, it has no legal status or government signatories at present.

An important question would be that of sending a reply to an ETI message or signal. That discussion would be guided by whether the ETI transmission was intended for us or was overheard in passing, whether it was information-rich or information-poor, "friendly" or "hostile" in tone, and by other considerations. Discussion should begin on whether or how international or national representative bodies should address this issue.

Because existing institutions, processes, and agreements generally neglect the possibility of an ETI detection, much remains to be done to prepare for policy responses to a detection. The work could be addressed in two broad categories: first begin the educational and informational processes necessary to prepare government bodies and international institutions most likely to be affected by an ETI detection, and second begin establishing procedures and mechanisms similar to those outlined in this chapter, to make humankind's responses to detection more effective.


  1. NASA should encourage establishment of post-detection notification processes within and among concerned national governments and inter-governmental bodies identified by this report;
  2. NASA should clarify the its own policy and procedures for public dissemination of information about the detection;
  3. In accordance with established diplomatic procedures, NASA should brief national governments and international organizations about the Microwave Survey project and the implications of detection;
  4. NASA should conduct further analyses of the political consequences of detection;
  5. In accordance with established diplomatic procedures, NASA should work with governments and international organizations to develop procedures within international organizations for responses to detection;
  6. NASA should broaden international participation in SETI through training and technical assistance.