Cody Wilson, the mind behind the “Liberator,” the world’s first 3D-printed handgun, said he didn’t know what would happen once he uploaded the blueprints for the gun online.
Now he does.
The Department of State, through its Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance, forced Wilson to take down the online blueprints for the “Liberator” and all the other 3D-printed weapon parts that he has made available online. In a letter to Wilson, the State Department argues that by uploading the files, Wilson and his company, Defense Distributed, may have run afoul of export control laws, as first reported by Forbes.
In the letter, the State Department asked Wilson to take the blueprints down while it establishes whether the files comply with the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR. The letter states that technical data regulated under ITAR includes “blueprints, drawings, photographs, plans, instructions or documentation,” and that “disclosing (including oral or visual disclosure) or transferring technical data to a foreign person, whether in the United States or abroad, is considered an export.”
Wilson promptly complied with the order, taking down the files and posting a disclaimer on DefCad, Defense Distributed’s online weapons blueprint repository.
“DEFCAD files are being removed from public access at the request of the U.S. Department of Defense Trade Controls. Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information,” the disclaimer reads.
He also announced the decision on Twitter.
#DEFCAD is going dark at the request of the SOS Department of Defense Trade Controls. Some shapes are more dangerous than others.
— Cody R. Wilson (@Radomysisky) May 9, 2013
For Wilson, this is just the beginning of the battle. And while he obviously didn’t like it, he admitted he didn’t have a choice but to comply.
“It’s the first shot. It’s like, ‘look, stop,'” Wilson told Mashable in a phone interview. “And you know what? You gotta do that when they say that, it’s the Department of State for crying out loud.”
While Wilson took down the files from DefCad, that doesn’t mean people can’t download the “Liberator” or Defense Distributed’s previous releases anymore. The Liberator’s blueprint file was download over 100,000 times since Monday, and it remains out there, elsewhere on the Internet.
“I didn’t expect them to assert authority on the front end. I didn’t expect them to say, ‘Take it down and then we’ll see if you can do it,’” Wilson said. “But it’s OK […] It’s all over the Pirate Bay, it’s in the Internet, there are mirrors of it. We’ve taken all the files down from public access, but the Internet has it safely.”
Apart from taking down the files, the letter will force Wilson to request permission to re-release any of the files that were uploaded, as well as any future blueprints or designs. And in case the Department of State says the files are subject to export laws, he might have to get a license, which could take months. “For all intents and purposes, realistically speaking, DefCad won’t be serving files for a long time,” he said.
Wilson likens this situation to what happened with PGP, a cryptography software created by Philip Zimmermann. In the ’90s, Zimmermann was investigated for having published his software online. At the time, cryptography was an export-controlled technology, just like weapons. In the end, and after much public outcry, though, the case was dropped.
Wilson argues that just like with PGP, this is not just about cryptography or guns, this is about much more.
“The future of distributed technologies in the Internet is that no one has control of the information,” he told Mashable. “This is more than guns now, man, this is about the Internet, this is about information.” Information that he thinks should be free and information over which he thinks the government shouldn’t have any control.
Meanwhile, legislators continue responding to the situation with renewed calls for legislation. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), who has proposed legislation to renew the Undetectable Firearms Act, which bans the manufacturing of plastic guns, released a statement Thursday: “We still need to pass my legislation, the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act, to give local law enforcement officials the tools they need to prosecute people who would make plastic firearms using the files that have already been downloaded 100,000 [times].”
Also on Thursday, California state Senator Leland Yee announced legislation to stop the spread of 3D-printed guns.
As Wilson put it, this is just the beginning. “Looks like we’re gonna have a battle early about the future of the Internet,” he said.
Image courtesy of Defense Distributed