The United States government has been trying fruitlessly to stifle the spread of any information it deems inappropriate for centuries (at least since the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts). Back in the 1990s the government was trying to restrict the sharing of information about of strong cryptography, claiming such algorithms were munitions (I’m not making this up). Now the government is doubling down on its stupidity and trying to prevent the sharing of information related to manufacturing 3D printed firearms:
As readers of Reason know well, Cody Wilson is living proof the government has already been acting on the belief they have this power to prevent certain technical details about gun making from spreading to the Internet without their approval—in Wilson’s case, CAD files to for a 3D printed plastic handgun. And they’ve already been sued for it by Wilson.
Wilson this morning tells me that in making this regulatory move public, it’s almost like the people he’s suing are begging for an injunction to stop them. The proposed regulation is even signed by one of the same people Wilson is suing, C. Edward Peartree, director of the Office of Defense Trade Controls Policy. (One might argue that this is a person being sued in some sense backtracking to cover his own legal ass by stating that the seemingly objectionable actions he’s being sued over are settled lawful regulations, though I don’t know if a court would agree with that argument one way or the other.)
The State Department, Wilson says, could have gone to the next hearing on his case on July 6 “and say we are changing the rule, we will address [Wilson’s complaints about the 1st, 2nd, and 5th amendment issues with their censorious practice], moot the case.” Instead they are “completely explicit” with these new announced regs, “doubling down” on their supposed power to require government license for certain kinds of speech related to weapons usable for self-defense.
Wilson says his suit had to try to demonstrate that the government had such a policy for prior approval of speech. Now the government is “saying our policy is literally that there is such a requirement and always has been.” Wilson seems to think it might make it easier to get an injunction against the government’s threats to him to take down from his servers information related to the home-making of plastic guns via 3D printers. We’ll see.
Attempts to restrict the proliferation of information don’t worry me. The state can write as many laws as it wants but in the end people will always ignore restrictions on sharing information. Thanks to strong cryptographic tools, which the state tried but failed to control in the 1990s, it’s trivial for people to post and read information anonymously. And the task will only become more futile as the state tightens its grip. Arrests, charges, prosecutions, and imprisonments will encourage more and more people to utilize tools such as Tor to protect their anonymity. As more people use these tools the task of the state to identify and attack sharers of information will become more infeasible.
This battle has been waging since at least the invention of the printing press and will continue to wage until humanity rids itself of the yoke of statism. But it is a battle that the state can never win because it is only a handful of individuals going against the collected creativity of the masses.