In response to the online availability of the first functional 3D-printable gun, the Department of Defense, as part of its trade controls, seized the intellectual property of DEFCAD and restricted the distribution. The organization’s website notified users of the change by placing a red banner at the top of the site with the following:
“DEFCAD files have been 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.”
Unfortunately for the US government, once something is placed online, it is nearly impossible to bring it out of that space. Within two days of its listing, the Liberator pistol design saw more than 100,000 downloads. The request was made under the Arms Export Control Act and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. DEFCAD complied, but now The Pirate Bay is taking over distribution.
The Pirate Bay is notorious for its refusal to bow to authorities of any kind, and the unfettered distribution of the design is precisely the threat that government officials failed to take seriously in the past. Now the weapon is being distributed online; The Pirate Bay has expressed that it has no intention of reversing course.
In an interview with TorrentFreak, an insider at The Pirate Bay said, “TPB [The Pirate Bay] has for close to 10 years been operating without taking down one single torrent due to pressure from the outside. And it will never start doing that.”
Had Congress responded quicker, better educated itself, not underestimated the rate at which innovation can occur in the digital age, or played an active rather than passive or responsive role, the potential risk to the public may not have been as uncontrollable as it is now. It’s not that officials were unaware of the threat the weapons pose, potentially undetectable as they are, nor ignorant that the weapons would eventually be available, rather, they relegated the technology to a space reserved for science fiction. Their oversight has left Pandora’s box to be opened, and now there’s no closing it.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.