Sunday, May 12, 2013

100,000 Downloads -- Part One

An odd little incident happened last Thursday which just might change history.  Note:

From Forbes, 5/9/13

State Department Demands Takedown Of 3D-Printable Gun Files For Possible Export Control Violations

On Thursday, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson received a letter from the State Department Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance demanding that he take down the online blueprints for the 3D-printable “Liberator” handgun that his group released Monday, along with nine other 3D-printable firearms components hosted on the group’s website The government says it wants to review the files for compliance with arms export control laws known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR. By uploading the weapons files to the Internet and allowing them to be downloaded abroad, the letter implies Wilson’s high-tech gun group may have violated those export controls.

“Until the Department provides Defense Distributed with final [commodity jurisdiction] determinations, Defense Distributed should treat the above technical data as ITAR-controlled,” reads the letter, referring to a list of ten CAD files hosted on Defcad that include the 3D-printable gun, silencers, sights and other pieces. “This means that all data should be removed from public acces immediately. Defense Distributed should review the remainder of the data made public on its website to determine whether any other data may be similarly controlled and proceed according to ITAR requirements.”

Wilson, a law student at the University of Texas in Austin, says that Defense Distributed will in fact take down its files until the State Department has completed its review. “We have to comply,” he says. “All such data should be removed from public access, the letter says. That might be an impossible standard. But we’ll do our part to remove it from our servers.”

As Wilson hints, that doesn’t mean the government has successfully censored the 3D-printable gun. While Defense Distributed says it will take down the gun’s printable file from, its downloads–100,000 in just the first two days the file was online–were actually being served by Mega, the New Zealand-based storage service created by ex-hacker entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, an outspoken U.S. government critic. It’s not clear whether the file will be taken off Mega’s servers, where it may remain available for download. The blueprint for the gun and other Defense Distributed firearm components have also been uploaded several times to the Pirate Bay, the censorship-resistant filesharing site.

Wilson argues that he’s also legally protected. He says Defense Distributed is excluded from the ITAR regulations under an exemption for non-profit public domain releases of technical files designed to create a safe harbor for research and other public interest activities. That exemption, he says, would require Defense Distributed’s files to be stored in a library or sold in a bookstore. Wilson argues that Internet access at a library should qualify under ITAR’s statutes, and says that Defcad’s files have also been made available for sale in an Austin, Texas bookstore that he declined to name in order to protect the bookstore’s owner from scrutiny.

Despite taking down his files, Wilson doesn’t see the government’s attempts to censor the Liberator’s blueprints as a defeat. On the contrary, Defense Distributed’s radical libertarian and anarchist founder says he’s been seeking to highlight exactly this issue, that a 3D-printable gun can’t be stopped from spreading around the global Internet no matter what legal measures governments take. “This is the conversation I want,” Wilson says. “Is this a workable regulatory regime? Can there be defense trade control in the era of the Internet and 3D printing?”

Wilson compares his new legal troubles to the widely-followed case in the mid-1990s of Philip Zimmermann, the inventor of the cryptographic software PGP, who was threatened with indictment under ITAR for putting his military-grade encryption software online. “It’s PGP all over again,” says Wilson.

Wilson revealed a nice sense of history when he labelled his 3-D-printable gun the "Liberator".  The original Liberator was probably the world's cheapest and flimsiest professionally manufactured gun, produced by the millions in the last year of World War Two -- and dropped by the millions over occupied France.  The Liberator wasn't intended -- or designed -- to be fired more than a dozen times apiece;  the idea was to use it to shoot a German, and then take his (much better) gun.  Yes, the Libertor pistol played a significant part in the liberation of France.  It's anyone's guess just whom Wilson intended his gun to liberate people from.

He's quite correct, though, when he says that the genie is definitely out of the bottle.  In the two days that the file for printing the Liberator was available on the Internet, it was downloaded more than 100,000 times.  Likewise, as he mentions, there are other sites outside the US that have the files are are gleefully posting them.  Knowing what mavericks computer-nerds tend to be about Internet censorship, I daresay that plenty of them have downloaded the files, passed them on, and started 3-D printing the guns just for the hell of it.  

The only limitation here is the availability of adequate 3-D printers, the material (high-impact plastic) to make them out of, and ammunition.  (Of course, files for 3-D printing ammunition are available on the Internet too.) Now it's anyone's guess how many 3-D printers are already out there in private hands.  I saw one making cute little sculptures at LunaCon just a couple months ago, I've heard that the simplest machines are on the market for $500 and top-of-the-line industrial printers can be bought for $8000.  The materials have been available everywhere for years.  There is no way that the government -- any government -- can stop the underground manufacture of Liberators -- by the millions.  So forget the legendary "Saturday Night Special", zip-gun and underground arms-dealer;  the Liberator can outnumber all of them.

This is the death-knell of all hope for gun control.  

The only solution to the gun-crime and gun-violence that the Schumers and Feinsteins cry about will be to adopt just the opposite tactic: the Swiss System.  The lessons of history show that when all Americans are as well armed and trained as the Swiss, we'll have an internal crime-rate as low as Switzerland's.  Gun control will be as dead as Prohibition, thankfully.

And we'll have the 3-D printer to thank for it.

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish        


windmills said...

Genie was never in the bottle, Leslie. I work with machine tools, and guns have never been that hard to make. The first guys to produce repeating firearms shaped the metal by heating it in fire and hitting it with a hammer, for Pete's sake. The Russians were able to make AKs on manual mills in 1947. Nobody had even thought of CNC yet, lol.

Feinstein and her ilk just assume I can't make one because they couldn't. They are obviously smarter than I am, being in government and all.

Unfortunately, new facts are unlikely to change their beloved opinions, based on how they've reacted to facts so far.

All that said, though, pretty good summary of the mess to date. Thanks for spreading the gospel.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Windmills, it is a skills issue. I'm sure you can make a gun. But it takes skilled labor time. A lot of us don't have those skills anymore. The nice thing about 3d printers is that is that production doesn't take any skills. I can download a design from the Internet and have it printed despite not knowing much.

Leslie, the problem with ammunition is not the design but the filling. How many people can reliably make the explosives for primer caps?

BTW, current generation 3d printers may not be up to creating repeating weapons, but the technology will get better. Metal 3d printing already exists, but it is still expensive. "Still" being the operative word.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Windy. Of course machine-shops (and before them, blacksmiths) could always make guns; the 3-D printer just makes the art quicker, cheaper, quieter, and covering less ground.

Hi, Ori. As for the filling, well, ahem, I wrote a song about that. Poul Anderson wrote a whole series of novels about it. And of course, the info is floating free on the Internet; it's been out there much longer, and has spread wider, than the Liberator files. Not a problem.

I'll go you one further. Remember that I flunked basic college Chemistry, but I can tell you how to make and use a poison-gas bomb in *just eight words*: "Pour Clorox into Drano and throw damn fast."

The basic knowledge has always been out there, but the means of making use of it -- fast, cheap, and undetectably -- really is the straw that will break the gun-control camel's back.

--Leslie <;)))><

Ori Pomerantz said...

I wasn't thinking about the propellant, but the primer ( I don't think putting a shock sensitive explosive into caps and sealing them is a good idea unless you know what you are doing. The knowledge is out there, but as with gun manufacture by metal working it takes skills.

I agree that poison gas is much easier. The problem is that it is more useful for attack than for defense. It is an area effect weapon.

windmills said...

Ori, no need to worry that you don't, personally, know how to make a gun. If we get to the point where (a hypothetical machinist) is reduced to cranking out his own AKs and M3 grease-guns, he's not making them one at a time. Listen to Leslie's excellent "Weapon Shops of Isher". Opposition to gun control isn't about remaining armed, it's about remaining law-abiding. Just my $0.02.

I agree, though, the govt has as much hope of suppressing this new technology as the Euro-Nobles who tried to ban musketry because it made war unsporting, or the endless parade of idealists trying to do away with the H-bomb. Can't unkill a guy, can't uninvent stuff. Sorry, govt. (I'm not really sorry.)

Oh, on the ammo issue? Not a problem. Ammo is a consumable resource. A couple of cops check out fifty rounds, only shoot twenty, decimals get misplaced, rounds don't have serial numbers. Stuff gets lost. Way of the world, I'm afraid.

Mark Horning said...

This isn't about the US, it's about China.

Anyone can go into Home depot and buy the parts to make a nice little zip gun for under $10.

Can you imagine the horror of the chineese government at the mere idea of the peasants being able to print off firearms undetected though?