I'm trying to think of times when Data broke the Three Laws of Robotics, but I can't think of any outside of the episode "Clues" in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

But I also don't remember any mention of the Three Laws of Robotics by Data or Soong.

Is Data able to break any of the Three Laws of Robotics?

  • 7
    I'm trying to think what rule he broke in Clues - he was lying, but then he was strongly ordered to lie by a superior officer, with the motivation that lying would save the ship's crew.
    – HorusKol
    Jun 23, 2011 at 23:18

8 Answers 8


Data most certainly does NOT follow the three laws of robotics.

Data is a serving officer in the Federation's military, he gives as well as takes orders. If he were to follow the Second Law of robotics, even enlisted personnel could force him to follow their orders.

Data ignores the Third Law, he could not have acted as he did at the end of Nemesis - there were obvious and superior ways to save Picard without risking his own existence (a full rundown is beyond the scope of this answer).

Lastly, if we assume (and I think we MUST, given the context of the stories involved) that the term 'human' in the laws would be changed to 'sentient being' (or something similar, to include Vulcans, Andorians, Tellerites, Orions, etc) Data could not function in his tasks aboard the ship and still obey the First Law.

The Enterprise is a warship. The crew explicitly says so in TNG5x14: Conundrum, when they forget everything but their training. The very purpose of the ship is to explore, seek out new life forms, and be ready to blow the everliving hell out of them if they're a threat.

Constantly in the series, Data serves as ops officer. This position is responsible for (among other things) analysis of tactical situations and enemy technology. He frequently suggests ways to disable or destroy enemy ships when standard tactics or technology is found ineffective. His actions DIRECTLY place the crew into harm's way, and he helps bring harm (and death, so much death) unto others.

Data is not, and cannot be, an Asimovian-style positronic robot, or his positronic brain would have burned itself out long ago (possibly before he left the Academy).

  • 16
    Yes, a warship with a nursery (sigh)...
    – John C
    Jun 24, 2011 at 22:13
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    presumably, Data not taking orders from enlisted personnell COULD be computed to be compatible with the Second Law since doing so would contradict more important orders from superior offers (specifically, that an officer shoulod not take orders from enlisteds) Jun 24, 2011 at 22:41
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    = +1 for "explore, seek out new life forms, and be ready to blow the everliving hell out of them" Jun 24, 2011 at 22:43
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    Plus, if Sung created Asimovian-style positronic brains it would be hard to figure Lore into the story.
    – Xantec
    Jun 26, 2011 at 13:52
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    "The Enterprise is a warship." No, it's not. Quite the opposite, and Starfleet boasts every possible time that they are a peace force without any offense ship.
    – motoDrizzt
    Dec 17, 2019 at 8:49

From alt.books.isaac-asimov FAQ, #12, originally sourced from John H. Jenkins post 20 Jul 1994

Asimov tended not to let other people use his specific Laws of Robotics, but his essential insight -- that robots will have in-built ethical systems -- is freely used.

Data does not have the Three Laws, however (witness the episode "The Measure of a Man" in which he refuses to follow a direct order from a superior officer [Second Law] without invoking either danger to a specific human [First Law] or the higher needs of all of humanity [Zeroth Law]). Moreover, his ethical programming is not fundamental to his design (his prototype, Lore, lacks it altogether, and Data's ethical program is turned off for much of "Descent, part II").

Asimov stated that Roddenberry asked for his permission to make Data a positronic robot after the fact. Asimov himself had no input into the character.


I am programmed with the ability to use deadly force in the cause of defense.

— Data, The Most Toys

Later, he was apparently about to kill Fajo, but it may have been a feint.

  • 4
    I recall he also killed a number of Borg, particularly ones who had been separated from the Collective. In one episode, he "enjoys" killing them.
    – Chad Levy
    Nov 27, 2011 at 10:15
  • @NickT: I doubt it was a feign, considering it was pointed out a few moments later by O'Brien that it had discharged during transit. Given the circumstances, it was unlikely that that was, as Data implied to Riker thereafter, a malfunction or something or other. Nov 18, 2015 at 15:35

In Asimon Foundation robot Daneel become aware of a forth law defined the Zeroth Law:

A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

In Star Trek universe humanity can be intended like intelligent biological being. Or so I presume.

So assuming that Data owns a posithronic brain (as in Asimov stories), he may have the zeroth law.

In this case pursuing a superior purpose, Data can damage (or even kill) a human-like being for preserve a major number.

Maybe only Dr. Noonien Sung can reply this question.


"The Most Toys" is the 22nd episode of the third season of the science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation"

When Data was held captive by that collector guy, they both had these super painful and banned Romulan disrupters pointed at each other. Data saw how painful and awful the weapon was when the Collector guy shot a female captive that was helping Data Escape. It appeared to hit the victim, burn and cause intense pain for several seconds before spreading out to the rest of the body to completely vaporize it. It took about 5-7 seconds. In the final showdown between Data and the Collector, they both had these disrupters pointed at each other. The Collector guy threw his to the ground and said to Data, I am unarmed, you must let me go, Referring loosely to the Three laws of Robotics, and laughing at Data all the while, saying as an android he had no choice. He knew that the Federation would go lightly on him or had any jurisdiction on him at all, and he seemed very sure of himself that he spread a lot of bribes around the area making it most unlikely he would ever get punished and be back out stealing and causing misery to others in a short while. Data hesitated and briefly lowered the weapon. After pondering his action for a moment or two, and Data pointed the weapon at the collector and announced to the, "No, I cannot allow this to continue any longer." The Collector guy was shocked and said, you can’t, I'm unarmed, or something to that affect, he did look truly frightened. Just then the Enterprise began to transport Data back to the Enterprise when Chief O’Brien announced to Picard and Riker that a Disrupter type weapon was discharging and disarmed it before Data Re-energized on Enterprise. When Picard questioned Data about the Disrupter being discharged. Data said he didn't recall that it was firing. Just by looking at Data's face before and after transport, you just knew, Data was going to waste that scumbag Collector.


While Data has the three laws of robotics he also has his sworn oath to Starfleet. As he processes situations he initially processes them with his Starfleet oath. This allows him to follow orders that may conflict with his three laws. There are situations where his Starfleet oath allows him to ignore his three basic laws and times when his three laws demand his ignoring of the oath to follow his three laws. His attempt to kill Fajo was following his Starfleet oath. His contact with a little girl on subspace to save her planet was following his basic three laws. A very tricky thread to weave.

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    If you can ignore any of the 3 Laws, then you do not have them. They are an absolute, and cannot be overridden, regardless of other oaths or commitments. The only thing that allows a robot to ignore any of the Laws is an invocation of a lower numbered Law.
    – DavidS
    Nov 18, 2015 at 10:30

I would argue that Data does adhere to the three laws of robotics, as well as the zeroth law. I would also ( in the spirit of science ) submit a "negative one" law that would state " a robot may not through action or inaction allow any being to come to harm", seeing that we are in a multiverse that includes various life forms and civilizations.

The concept of harm is a relative one; in terms of humans ( on earth) No ONE should come to harm , as per Asimov's law. But if you recall, robots are banned from Earth; so it would follow that the harm referred to is in terms of a Master- worker relationship.

However, in terms of the multiversal spectra of Star Trek and in cooperation with the Prime Directive, some beings MAY have to come to harm, for the benefit of the sum total.


Everyone seems to forget in season one when the away team finds lore disassemble, Tasha references that Dr. Soong finally realized Asimovs dream of a positronic brain. Suggesting that data and lore and not in anyway actually connected to asimovs robots or the three laws they were just simply the idea or inspiration for creating data and lore... put more simply, in Star Trek, Asimov is a long dead author but at the same time The creator of Star Trek Gene Roddenbarrys inspiration for the character Data was Asimovs i robot and foundation series

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. I'm not sure I'm reading this correctly; you seem to be arguing that the connection to Asimov was acknowledged in-universe, but that still doesn't answer if Data was designed to be Three Laws-compliant. Please make sure you answer the question instead of responding to other answers.
    – DavidW
    Nov 16, 2020 at 2:32

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