3D printing has been around for a while, but with the possibility of printing a gun, there’s been a very contentious debate surrounding the technology. Now, the US government has stepped in and taken down content.
The technology can print many interesting things such as human body parts, plastic figurines and even an entire building. Some, such as myself, have already seen the technology and wondered if we’ll witness the same kinds of debates we’ve seen with music and file-sharing all over again.
In the last few days, there’s been some controversy over someone creating the blueprints to print an entire fully functional gun. Some say it’s the dawn of a new era where there the government can exert less control over the citizens. Some consider 3D printing a form of free speech and the blueprints for this gun is no exception. Others consider this a threat to national security. With a few thousand dollars, someone can purchase a 3D printer and be able to print weapons completely undetected. Suffice to say, this is an extremely difficult debate especially given the possible ramifications for either side.
Now, the debate could get even more heated. Recently, DEFCAD, a website that offers blueprints to certain 3D printable objects, put up a banner that says, “DEFCAD files are being removed from public access at the request of the US Department of Defense Trade Controls.”
“Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information.”
Presumably, the government is trying to keep the blueprints for the Liberator out of the hands of the public. The Liberator is the name of the plastic gun that took the media by storm.
This apparent move will certainly take things to the next level for enthusiasts of 3D printing. It’s not unprecedented for the government to attempt to censor a website. Wikileaks was also subject to the US government attempting to censor its website after it released 250,000 diplomatic cables that embarrassed many high ranking officials and exposed the close relationship between corporations and US government foreign policy in a whole new level.
Of course, for those who have a general understanding of the Internet, they will know that taking down something that was already publicly available on the Internet on one website doesn’t mean it’ll never resurface again. There’s plenty of precedent for that. One great example is the Blu Ray AACS encryption key. The key was taken down on numerous websites only to have the key resurface elsewhere just moments after it was taken down. So, it will be no surprise if the Liberator blueprint files manage to resurface elsewhere online.
One thing to note here is that, in the grand scheme of things, the copyright debate mostly pitted Hollywood, the Big Four music labels and major software companies against the Internet. What we have here is that the Internet is now being pitted against the US government. I think there is a huge difference in opponents here. Before, with the major entertainment corporations, the corporations had to at least lobby the government for various laws or demand that ISPs employ certain tactics to make an attempt to stem file-sharing activity. Now the battle lines are being drawn between the Internet and the US government directly. The government has the ability to wield more power more quickly because there is no corporation begging for the laws to be changed here.
I suspect that things stand to get very ugly if it all escalates from here. If free speech advocates thought it was tough keeping the Internet free before, I suspect it’ll be much tougher now that we’re dealing with the government trying to stop certain files from being widely available.