Earlier this year, a federal judge in Seattle delivered a temporary restraining order to stop the organisation ‘Defense Distributed’ from releasing blueprints of a 3D printable gun. Despite legally committing the files to the public domain through a license from US Department of State.
3D printing technology is revolutionising the design and manufacturing worlds.
Cryptocurrency seems pretty far removed from the fight in the US over the publication of software for 3D printed firearms. But, funnily enough, it has people in the blockchain community watching the story closely.
Why? Well, the word ‘publication’ has something to do with it.
Arguments first began back in 2013, when Mr Wilson, a self-styled crypto anarchist, showed off the world’s first 3D-printed gun.
Files showing how to replicate the process became immediately available on the Defense Distributed website, where it was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.
This led the US State Department to order Defense Distributed to strip all online copies.
From there they’ve been in a four-year legal battle, teaming up with the Second Amendment Foundation, to sue the State Department.
Publication of innovation
‘Both cryptocurrency protocol software and AutoCAD files may be protected speech under the 1st Amendment,’ said Peter Van Valkenburgh, the director of research at blockchain industry advocacy group Coin Center in Washington, DC.
‘Thus, in either case, a law that attempted to censor or put prior-approval/prior restraint upon the speakers of that speech would likely be found unconstitutional.’
Wilson and Defense Distributed had recently celebrated a victory over the federal government, which settled the distribution of the technical information by abandoning its claims that to do so would be violating munitions export rules.
If you put aside the potentially dangerous security implications of these untraceable 3D-printed guns, the issue becomes clear. Not least because, in a world where 3d printed guns have been invented once, they can easily be recreated again. Attempts to stop it now are futile, and demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the internet. Then, really, the implication is simple. Despite the US government telling us this is for citizens’ safety, allowing this type of censorship is just as dangerous. It sets a precedent that will not be easily walked back from.
As it stands, it’s the publication which is being banned, not the product. It highlights deep issues of free speech which will resurface in government attempts to regulate crypto and distributed networks.
A clear reminder for game-changing technology
The momentum of media outrage and political censoring is a clear reminder of resistance that crypto — and any game-changing technology — is bound to face.
Wilson is no stranger to the crypto world, from his work on Darkwallet, a privacy enhancing bitcoin wallet, as well as his campaign to dismantle the Bitcoin Foundation at its peak prosperity.
But the connection of Defense Distributed’s ongoing battle to blockchain technology runs much deeper than that merry coincidence.
In a tweet, Peter Todd, the astute cryptography consultant, said that ‘Winning this fight could prove crucial for bitcoin and other projects.’
‘If you can’t post technical blueprints to guns, banning technical blueprints to crypto too doesn’t seem far-fetched.’
The biggest concern is that the free speech argument for code and blueprints isn’t so straightforward. And while the prohibitionists can’t possibly stop innovation, or the adoption of both blockchain and home manufacturing altogether, they can deny it, slow it down in places and cause collateral damage.
The reality that every man and his dog will be 3D printing guns, flooding the streets, and causing mayhem on an unfettered scale reads like an all too familiar fear mongering scare tactic. That’s probably why it’s working.
Sure, the government censors the publication of something potentially harmful, in the wrong hands. But we should not lose sight of the scarier reality. When governments get an inch on censorship, they take a mile. Again, it’s a precedent that‘s hard to come back from.