DEFCAD & Freedom of Information

Freedom of speech is, in my opinion, the single most important and inalienable right that humanity has. This isn’t a privilege granted by a government, it’s an innate right of humanity. It’s a right that is essential to the preservation of many other freedoms – without it, there is no freedom, there is no liberty.

Earlier today a friend posted something on Twitter, I started to retweet it, but after some thought decided I needed to say more than I could fit in 140 characters. I feel rather strongly about this one.

This is of course about the mess going on around DEFCAD which was told(PDF) to remove 3D models of the Liberator gun and various other gun parts.

The DEFCAD site currently has this message up:

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.

From reading the letter from the Office of Defense Trade Compliance, a part of the State Department, the issue is not that DEFCAD is distributing the information – but who can access it. By it’s very nature, any thing put on the internet is accessible by anyone around the world – the restrictions that could, and I believe will, be imposed will make DEFCAD’s mission impossible.

The restrictions that ITAR imposes makes it impossible to make this kind of material available – even with IP restrictions, there’s no way to know who is accessing this information.

In this case, ITAR has restricted an inalienable right – the right to free speech. Cody Wilson, as the face and voice of DEFCAD, has been told to withhold information – his free speech denied. This isn’t about shipping illicit guns to war torn countries – this is about making information available to the public. Theses aren’t stolen plans from a defense contractor, or the design of a new military weapon – it’s about a man that decided to share his knowledge of something he created and a government that told him to stop.

I should point out, I’m no fan of guns – I don’t own one and probably never will. I have mixed feelings about the proliferation of guns, but I have no mixed feeling about freedom of speech or attempts to suppress it. So this isn’t about guns for me, this is about an attempt to suppress knowledge.

Very, very, few people around the world have access to the type of 3D printer necessary to make a copy of the Liberator – the first item on the ODTC’s list and the design that put DEFCAD on everybody’s radar. So there really isn’t much risk of people making one – and the design is quite primitive as guns go. The Liberator is simple; it has only 15 plastic parts and one nail, less advanced than the gun it was named for – the FP-45 Liberator which was dropped in various countries during WWII (with less concern than what the US Government shows for its namesake). Does anyone really think that other countries are so far behind the US that they don’t have something more advanced than this?

An engineering student, in any country, with access to a CNC machine (which is cheaper and easier to get than the 3D printer used to make the Liberator) can make a weapon far more effective, and far more advanced. From a technology perspective, it’s simply not a threat. One can only speculate about what has really motivated the government’s actions.

This attempt to suppress information has had its usual effect – it’s widely available and has been downloaded more that it ever would have been had the government said nothing. Ah, the Streisand effect, will people ever learn? While the Liberator design and the other files on DEFCAD are safe (for now at least), it’s certain that this will have a chilling effect on Wilson and anyone else researching this.

Perhaps it’s not the Liberator that they wanted to stop – but whatever design that was going to be next. In that, it’s likely they have succeeded.