In August 2018, Defense Distributed, a 3D printed firearm company, poised itself to re-release the blueprints for a handgun. This unleashed a political firestorm between gun rights activists and firearm control enthusiasts.
Eventually, a federal judge stopped the distribution. While this was a distribution of information, it was a distribution of information which could potentially harm someone with a firearm.
The CEO of Defense Distributed, Cody Wilson, was not just aiming at handing a gun to everyone with a 3D printer. Instead, he is attempting to make a more significant point about the free distribution of information. While he has been stopped from releasing his blueprints, he is fighting back.
But his defense isn’t based upon the Second Amendment right to bear arms, no, in fact, it’s based upon the first amendment which defends freedom of speech.
Information is Not a Weapon
According to Wilson, the instructions to 3D print weapons represents the release of information which is protected under freedom of speech. This is the latest example of a philosophy called crypto-anarchy in action. While courts will determine if Defense Distributed can, distribute defense, the world will doubtless see more crypto-anarchy philosophy in action.
So what is it? Crypto-anarchy believes in the free distribution of information rather than consolidating it within the hands of a limited few. Technology has allowed for the decentralization of networks, monetary systems, and even workplaces. Why then, should information be kept and maintained by the most powerful. Crypto-anarchy seeks to subvert censorship and create a real marketplace of ideas where all rise and fall based upon their merit. Of course, this is a philosophy which makes very few friends with the entrenched political elite. After all, the people maintaining power usually want to hang on to it.
Crypto Anarchy Beginnings
In 1988 the “Crypto Anarchist Manifesto” was written by Timothy C. May. It was based upon two central tenets which flourish in the decentralized community: anonymity and freedom of information.
This is seen as a bulwark against government control and corruption. A corrupt government inherently controls the information which is decimated to its people and therefore controls the minds of its people. This philosophy has led to people like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange. All of them ostensibly committed crimes aimed at the greater good of exposing government information to the people.
Freedom of Information
The peer-to-peer nature of the internet allows people to transfer a significant amount of information interpersonally. This allows for people to exchange their ideas or for them to become de facto vectors by which advertising and political messages can be transferred. This also will enable businesses to get in between these p2p networks while taking a cut of the proceeds. Everything from Uber to Tinder takes transactions which could occur between two people and gets a billion dollar business involved.
A Peer-to-Peer Movement
This new constellation of decentralized apps is allowing myriad ways for people to interact directly with each other. This could be anything from selling a bike to providing the plans for a homemade handgun. So, with that being said, what ethics are guiding this movement?
While freedom of information seems like a good idea on paper, in practice it might mean more than a modern Library of Alexandria. Just because all data can be shared, does not say that it should be divided. Doxing has become one of the internet’s most infamous cudgels, should everyone’s address be made public.
If a handgun can be 3D printed, can a bomb? At what point does information have to be preserved by the few for the sake of social order? This is the central question of crypto-anarchy. It is also one which is currently being answered by the modern technology.
While people may not soon be armed with 3D printed weaponry, the conversation about the relative merits of crypto-anarchy is well into maturity. The technology that will indeed allow the large-scale transfer of open information is now readily available and likely, in all of our pockets. It remains to be seen if it is as dangerous as a handgun.