- There is no single law which can be said to be the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive is, rather, a series of laws binding members and agents of the United Federation of Planets in their dealings with other cultures. Originally the term specifically referred to Starfleet's General Order Number One, which was enacted to prevent contamination and/or destruction of less developed cultures as happened on the North and South American continents of Earth circa 1500 to 2000CE. Other Starfleet Regulations and secitions of the Federation Code of Interstellar Law were enacted to cover confrontations confrontations with other starfaring civilisations. The Prime Directive has been violated a number of times, the most egregious example being the introduction of Nazi (cf the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or NSDAP, Earth, circa 1920 to 1945CE) philosphy and structure to the planets Ekos and Zeon in the M43 Alpha system by Dr. John Gill in 2268.
- "As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Starfleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture.
"When contacting planets making normal progress toward a free and unified society, a Starfleet officer shall make no identification of self or mission; No interference with the social development of said planet; No references to space, or the fact that there are other worlds of more advanced civililisation."
- Starfleet's General Order Number One was written with the express intent of protecting developing cultures from contamination. Prior to the adoption of this regulation, several cultures weree influenced and disrupted by extraplanetary sources. Sigma Iotia II was contacted in 2168 by the Federation starship USS Horizon NCC-173, which left several books from Earth with the Iotians. One of these, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, became the new template for the Iotian culture, totally displacing the original within a century.
- Central to any discussion of Federation Law, especially Starfleet's General Order Number One, colloquially known as the Prime Directive, is a definition of what constitutes sapience. The Vulcans were the first species to produce a coherent definition of sapience. That definition reads:
- "Sapient: (def) - Having sufficient neural complexity to use symbolic language to sublimate survival and reproductive interests in more complex levels of æsthetic development, individual or social (but without necessarily denying the more fundamental levels of living)."
- The United Federation of Planets' legal definition is somewhat more complex, and describes specific characteristics an individual or species must exhibit to be considered legally sapient.
- Sapient being - an organised system having all of the following characteristics:
- Sentience - self-awareness as an individual distinct from all other individual members of the species.
- Time-binding sense - ability to consider the future, conceive optional future actions and act upon the results thereof.
- Creativity - ability to make bisociative syntheses of random matrices to produce new concepts.
- Behavioural adaptivity - capability of overriding the preprogrammed behaiours of instinct with behaviour adapted to perceived present or imagined future circumstances.
- Empathy - capability of imaginitive identification with another sapient being.
- Communication - ability to trnsmit information to another sapient being in a meaningful manner
- In cases where a sapient individual belongs to a normally non-sapient species, that species must be considered to be near the cusp of sapience, and therefore falls within the purview of the Prime Directive. In the case of an individual member of a sapient species who does not exhibit the characteristics of sapience, whether due to age, injury or congenital defect, that individual is entitled to the legal protections of a sapient being.
- The Federation, in light of experiences on Earth (cf Judgement Day by Sarah Connor, Cameron Press 2029) and other planets, has long viewed artificial intelligences (AIs) and robots with some suspicion. The incidents with the Exo III androids in 2266, the Daystrom M-5 computer and the Mudd's Planet androids in 2267 and V'GER (Voyager 6) in 2271 all contributed to this view.
In 2340, that officially changed, when the android robot named Data, constructed by Noonien Soong, was ruled to be a sapient being with all the rights and privileges thereof. data entered Starfleet Academy in 2341 and to date has achieved a rank of Lieutenant Commander in Starfleet. The ruling which pronounced Data a sapient being was challenged and upheld in 2365. An earlier version of the Soong android, named Lore, was discovered in 2364 and found to be dangerously unstable, although technically sapient. Lore was damaged and disassembled in 2370, and hearings on his fate are ongoing. He has, for the time being, been declared mentally incompetent and LCdr. Data as his closest legal relative has been given power of attorney until the matter is decided. LCdr. Data constructed a Soong-type android named Lal in 2366, in the hope of "reproducing." The experiment was a failure and Lal ceased to operate soon after her creation. In 2369, Dr. Farallon created a series of construction and repair robots called Exocomps, which were discovered to be sapient. LCdr. Data championed their cause to be declared legal persons.
In 2365, the sapient computer programme Professional James Moriarty was accidentally created by LCdr. Geordi Laforge. Professor Moriarty currently resides in a self-contained holomodule created by LCdr. Laforge and Lt. Reginald Barclay. Dr. Lewis Zimmerman used many of the Moriarty engrams in the design of the EMH programme. In 2377, USS Voyager NCC-74656 returned from being stranded for seven years in the Delta Quadrant. Their entire medical staff had been killed during the incident which stranded them and as a result, their EMH Mk. I had been running for most of that time. This unprecedented run-time, along with modifications made to the computer and programme allowed, or even forced, the EMH to full sapience. In addition, Voyager encountered an entire culture of holographic artificial lifeforms while in the Delta Quadrant. Hearings are under way to revise the entire body of Federation law as regards sapient artificial lifeforms.