The Future is Bright

A writer at The Guardian, which seems to be primarily known for propagating left-wing statist propaganda, has shown a slight glimmer of understanding. While neoconservatives and neoliberals fight for power over other people, crypto-anarchists have been busy working in the shadows to develop technology that allows individuals to defend themselves from the State:

The rise of crypto-anarchism might be good news for individual users – and there are plenty working on ways of using this technology for decent social purposes – but it’s also bad news for governments. It’s not a direct path, but digital technology tends to empower the individual at the expense of the state. Police forces complain they can’t keep up with new forms of online crime, partly because of the spread of freely available encryption tools. Information of all types – secrets, copyright, creative content, illegal images – is becoming increasingly difficult to contain and control. The rash of ransomware is certainly going to get worse, exposing the fragility of our always connected systems. (It’s easily available to buy on the dark net, a network of hidden websites that are difficult to censor and accessed with an anonymous web browser.) Who knows where this might end. A representative from something called “Bitnation” explained to Parallel Polis how an entire nation could one day be provided online via an uncontrollable, uncensorable digital network, where groups of citizens could club together to privately commission public services. Bitnation’s founder, Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, hopes Bitnation could one day replace the nation state and rid us of bureaucrats, creating “a world of a million competing digital nations”, as she later told me.

The biggest threat to statism is individual empowerment. While technology is a two-edged sword, serving both the State and individuals without concern for either’s morality, it is difficult to argue that it hasn’t greatly helped empower individuals.

A combination of Tor hidden services and cryptocurrencies have done a great deal to weaken the State’s drug war by establishing black markets where both buyers and sellers remain anonymous. Weakening the drug war is a significant blow to the State because it deprives it of slave labor (prisoners) and wealth (since the State can’t use civil forfeiture on property it can’t identify).

Tor, Virtual Private Networks (VPN), Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), Signal, and many other practical implementations of encryption have marvelously disrupted the State’s surveillance apparatus. This also cuts into the State’s revenue since it cannot issue fines, taxes, or other charges on activities it is unaware of.

3D printers, although still in their infancy, are poised to weaken the State’s ability to restrict objects. For example, the State can’t prohibit the possession of firearms if people are able print them without the State’s knowledge.

But if the State disables the Internet all of these technologies fall apart, right? That would be the case if the Internet was a centralized thing that the State could disable. But the Internet is simply the largest network of interconnected networks. Even if the State shutdown every Internet Service Provide (ISP) in the world and cut all of undersea cables, the separated networks will merely have to be reconnected. That is where a technology like mesh networking could come into play., for example, is a massive mesh network that spans Catalonia. According to the website, there are currently 33,191 operating nodes in the mesh. Shutting down that many nodes isn’t feasible, especially when they can be quickly replaced since individual nodes are usually cheap off-the-shelf Wi-Fi access points. Without the centralized Internet a span of interconnected mesh networks could reestablish global communications and there isn’t much the State could do about it.

Statism has waxed and waned throughout human history. I believe we’re at a tipping point where statism is beginning to wane and I believe advances in individual empowering technologies are what’s diminishing it. Voting won’t hinder the State. The Libertarian Party won’t hinder the State. Crypto-anarchists, on the other hand, have a proven track record of hindering the State and all signs point to them continuing to do so.

Illustrating Cryptographic Backdoors With Mechanical Backdoors

A lot of people don’t understand the concept of cryptographic backdoors. This isn’t surprising because cryptography and security are very complex fields of study. But it does lead to a great deal of misunderstanding, especially amongst those who tend to trust what government agents say.

I’ve been asked by quite a few people why Apple doesn’t comply with the demands of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). They’ve fallen for the FBI’s claims that the compromised firmware would only be used on that single iPhone and Apple would be allowed to maintain total control over the firmware at all times. However, as Jonathan Zdziarski explained, the burden of forensic methodology would require the firmware to exchange hands several times:

Once the tool is ready, it must be tested and validated by a third party. In this case, it would be NIST/NIJ (which is where my own tools were validated). NIST has a mobile forensics testing and validation process by which Apple would need to provide a copy of the tool (which would have to work on all of their test devices) for NIST to verify.


If evidence from a device ever leads to a case in a court room, the defense attorney will (and should) request a copy of the tool to have independent third party verification performed, at which point the software will need to be made to work on another set of test devices. Apple will need to work with defense experts to instruct them on how to use the tool to provide predictable and consistent results.

If Apple creates what the FBI is demanding the firmware would almost certainly end up in the hands of NIST, the defense attorney, and another third party hired by the defense attorney to verify the firmware. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” With the firmware exchanging so many hands it will almost certainly end up leaked to the public.

After pointing this out a common followup question is, “So what? How much damage could this firmware cause?” To illustrate this I will use an example from the physical world.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) worked with several lock manufacturers to create TSA recognized locks. These are special locks that TSA agents can bypass using master keys. To many this doesn’t sound bad. After all, the TSA tightly guards these master keys, right? Although I’m not familiar with the TSA’s internal policies regarding the management of their master keys I do know the key patterns were leaked to the Internet and 3D printer models were created shortly thereafter. And those models produce keys that work.

The keys were leaked, likely unintentionally, by a TSA agent posting a photograph of them online. With that single leak every TSA recognized lock was rendered entirely useless. Now anybody can obtain the keys to open any TSA recognized lock.

It only takes one person to leak a master key, either intentionally or unintentionally, to render every lock that key unlocks entirely useless. Leaking a compromised version of iOS could happen in many ways. The defendant’s attorney, who may not be well versed in proper security practices, could accidentally transfer the firmware to a third party in an unsecured manner. If that transfer is being monitored the person monitoring it would have a copy of the firmware. An employee of NIST could accidentally insert a USB drive with the firmware on it into an infected computer and unknowingly provide it to a malicious actor. Somebody working for the defendant’s third party verifier could intentionally leak a copy of the firmware. There are so many ways the firmware could make its way to the Internet that the question isn’t really a matter of if, but when.

Once the firmware is leaked to the Internet it would be available to anybody. While Apple could design the firmware to check the identity of the phone to guard against it working on any phone besides the one the FBI wants unlocked, it could be possible to spoof those identifies to make any iPhone 5C look like the one the FBI wants unlocked. It’s also possible that a method to disable a fully updated iPhone 5C’s signature verification will be found. If that happens a modified version of the compromised firmware, which would contain an invalid signature, that doesn’t check the phone’s identifiers could be installed.

The bottom line is that the mere existence of a compromised firmware, a master key if you will, puts every iPhone 5C at risk just as the existence of TSA master keys put everything secured with a TSA recognized lock at risk.

New South Wales Bans Possessing Knowledge

3D printers have ensured gun control laws will continue to become less enforceable. How can a government enforce a ban on something anybody can download a schematic for and print in their own home? It can’t. But that’s not going to stop the government of New South Wales from trying:

Possessing files that can be used to 3D print firearms will soon be illegal in New South Wales after new legislation, passed last week by state parliament, comes into effect.

Among the provisions of the Firearms and Weapons Prohibition Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (PDF) is an amendment to the Weapons Prohibition Act 1998 stating that a person “must not possess a digital blueprint for the manufacture of a firearm on a 3D printer or on an electronic milling machine.”

The maximum penalty is 14 years’ jail.

The provision does not apply to any person with a licence to manufacture firearms or the police.

‘Possession’ is defined as “possession of a computer or data storage device holding or containing the blueprint or of a document in which the blueprint is recorded” or “control of the blueprint held in a computer that is in the possession of another person (whether the computer is in this jurisdiction or outside this jurisdiction)”.

Enforcing this would require knowing every file on every person’s computer and knowing every purchase every person has made. Even banning 3D printers or requiring they be registered wouldn’t make this law enforceable because schematics exist for 3D printers that can print 3D printer parts and be built at home.

With that said, this is yet another law that should encourage people to utilize strong cryptographic tools. Ensure every data storage device you possess is encrypted. Only access websites through encrypted connections. And use anonymity tools like Tor to download any potentially illegal data (which is all data). Laws against possessing information requires the authorities be capable of finding out whether or not you’ve learned something. So long as you can conceal that from them they cannot enforce such prohibitions.

Get Your TSA Approved Lock Keys Here

Air travelers who don’t have firearms in their checked luggage probably use a special Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved lock. What is a TSA approved lock? I’ll let the TSA’s very own Blogger Bob explain:

TSA has worked with several companies to develop locks that can be opened by security officers using universal “master” keys so that the locks may not have to be cut. These locks are available at most airports and many travel stores nationwide. The packaging on the locks indicates whether they can be opened by TSA.

In other words TSA approved locks are locks with an included backdoor that can be used by TSA officers to access your luggage. I will take a moment to note that the use of TSA approved locks is not lawful when firearms are in your checked luggage so those of us who do fly with them do not, and legally can not, use TSA approved locks.

Now that I’m done with that aside, let’s discuss the major flaw inherent in backdoors. Backdoors necessarily break security systems, whether they’re physical locks of cryptographic algorithms, because anybody in possession of a master key can gain access. I hear some of you saying, “But, Chris, only authorized TSA agents have access to those master keys!” If only that were the case. Unfortunately some bozo went and accidentally released a picture of the TSA’s master keys.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, but pictures of keys can’t unlock locks!” While that’s true pictures of keys can be modeled and things that can be modeled can 3D printed. Behold! 3D printer models for TSA master keys! Now anybody with a 3D printer can create keys that can utilize the backdoor on TSA approved locks.

Herein lies the problem with backdoors, it only takes one person to accidentally reveal the master key to render anything secured with the backdoored system insecure. In this case a single careless TSA agent allowed a ring of TSA master keys to be photographed and therefore reproduced by anybody. The same threat would apply to any government mandated backdoors in encryption systems. It would only take one careless person with access to the government master key to have it showing on their screen when a reported took photographed to render all data secured with that system insecure.

The moral of the story is say no to backdoors.

Advances In Technology Creates New Markets Which Creates New Jobs Which Creates New Wealth

One of the most idiotic claims I hear, usually from members of the labor movement, is that automation is taking American jobs. They get made when I use self-checkout kiosks at the grocery store because they think that mindless machine is eliminating a human worker permanently. Ironically they rant at me as they’re demanding the minimum wage be increased. If anything encourages a business owner to seek a way to automate labor it’s forcing them to pay a laborer more than they make for the company. Another irony is they often post their rants online using a machine that has done more to wipe out manual labor than anything else.

Here’s the thing, when automation obsoletes human labor the people who are displaced aren’t eliminated from the workforce forever. Us humans are adaptable. In fact we wouldn’t be the dominant species on this planet if we weren’t. When our set of skills is obsoleted by automation we can learn new skills. In fact the replacement of human labor by automation has lead to the increase in the number of skills needed and therefore the number of laborers needed. That’s right, technology has actually created more jobs than it has destroyed:

In the 1800s it was the Luddites smashing weaving machines. These days retail staff worry about automatic checkouts. Sooner or later taxi drivers will be fretting over self-driving cars.

The battle between man and machines goes back centuries. Are they taking our jobs? Or are they merely easing our workload?

A study by economists at the consultancy Deloitte seeks to shed new light on the relationship between jobs and the rise of technology by trawling through census data for England and Wales going back to 1871.

Their conclusion is unremittingly cheerful: rather than destroying jobs, technology has been a “great job-creating machine”. Findings by Deloitte such as a fourfold rise in bar staff since the 1950s or a surge in the number of hairdressers this century suggest to the authors that technology has increased spending power, therefore creating new demand and new jobs.

Their study, shortlisted for the Society of Business Economists’ Rybczynski prize, argues that the debate has been skewed towards the job-destroying effects of technological change, which are more easily observed than than its creative aspects.

Computers may have eliminated the need for most secretarial labor but it created the need for hardware developers, programmers, technical support specialists, network engineers, and a ton of other jobs that exist only because computers are now pervasive throughout our society.

Automation is a wonderful thing. It creates more wealth that can be invested in more ventures that employs more people. Librarians well-versed in the Dewey Decimal Classification system may not be in high demand anymore but Google, Microsoft, and DuckDuckGo have employed a lot of people to build, improve, and maintain their search engines. In addition to creating those jobs automation also lead to entirely new markets. Data mining, for example, wouldn’t exist if massive amounts of searchable data didn’t.

3D printing is an emerging technology that stands to replace a lot of human labor in manufacturing. But it also stands to open up markets for improving 3D printer technology, material engineering for 3D printers, engineering goods so they can be more easily manufactured with 3D printers, designing 3D models to print, etc.

Advances in technology creates new markets which creates new jobs which creates new wealth which leads to advances in technology. It’s a beautiful cycle of creation. The people who claim automation eliminates jobs are bloody idiots. Automation creates new jobs.

Using The Market To Fight Poachers

Poaching is an issue in various parts of the world. Most species of rhino, for example, have been hunted to near extinction, in part, because a lot of cultures believe its horn carries magical properties that make human dicks bigger (or harder or whatever). Governments have been trying to solve this problem in the only way they know how, creating prohibitions. These prohibitions, like all prohibitions, have failed. Fortunately the market is here to bail us out. A group of researchers have come up with a clever way to reduce the demand for poaching rhinos:

Pembient, based in San Francisco uses keratin — a type of fibrous protein — and rhino DNA to produce a dried powder which is then 3D printed into synthetic rhino horns which is genetically and spectrographically similar to original rhino horns.The company plans to release a beer brewed with the synthetic horn later this year in the Chinese market.

The Chinese and Vietnamese rhino horn craze has caused an unprecedented surge in rhino poaching throughout Africa and Asia bringing the animal to the brink of extinction. In South Africa, home to 80 percent of Africa’s rhino population, 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014.

Matthew Markus, CEO of Pembient says his company will sell rhino horns at one-eighth of the price of the original, undercutting the price poachers can get and forcing them out eventually.

Who said counterfeits were always bad? Rhino horn is worth a lot of money so poachers will continue to take bigger risks in pursuit of the few remaining animals on the planet. By creating an artificial substitute that is indistinguishable from the real deal and flooding the market with it the demand for rhino horn can be fulfilled and therefore reduce. This is the strategy that stands a chance of reducing rhino poaching because it address the root cause.

When The Only Thing You Have Is Legislation Every Problem Looks Like It Can Be Solved By Passing A Law

Politicians are trying to infringe on both the rights of self-defense and free speech in their latest attempt at the impossible. With the 3D printing revolution taking place many politicians see the writing on the wall and realize their power to regulate manufacturing is waning. Hoping to head this technology off at the pass they’re trying to find a justification that people will fall for to pass regulations against 3D printing. Their betting everything on the populace finding the prospect of 3D printed firearms scary enough that they’ll support laws restricting what individuals can print on their 3D printers. But the rhetoric is especially amusing:

The notion of a 3-D printable gun has become the perfect flashpoint in a new conflict between digital arms control and free speech. Should Americans be allowed to say and share whatever they want online, even if that “speech” is a blueprint for a gun? The State Department has now answered that question with a resounding “no.”

That isn’t even the correct question. What everybody should be asking is if it’s even possible to enforce a law restricting what individuals can do with their 3D printers. The answer is no. Computer technology is far too pervasive to control anymore. Information can be shared amongst individuals around the world almost instantly. Anonymity tools allow individuals to share information without being identifiable. And even if people in the United States comply with a law against sharing 3D printer designs for firearms the rest of the world isn’t bound by such nonsense.

Censorship is dead and the Internet killed it. Any restriction against the sharing of ideas is unenforceable and therefore shouldn’t even be a consideration for politicians.

Making It Doubleplus Illegal

Everything can be solved by a prohibition. At least that’s what the statists believe. Back in the day the movie Die Hard had everybody convinced that a Glock handgun was made of plastic and porcelain and could therefore get past metal detectors. Although this was entirely fabricated the politicians latched onto it and pass the Undetectable Firearms Act, which requires the inclusion of at least 3.7 ounces of steel in any firearm so it can be detected by metal detectors. With the advent of 3D printed firearms many politicians again have their panties in a bunch. Several of them have taken action and introduced a bill that would require metal be included in any firearm design:

Plastic guns can be even more dangerous than traditional firearms because they’re harder to detect, says Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.).

The Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act, backed by Israel and several other Democrats, would prohibit the manufacture of entirely plastic guns. The legislation would require a major component of every gun to contain enough traces of metal to be detected.

Israel plans to unveil the legislation Tuesday during a press conference at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, where he will draw a connection between his bill and recent high-profile airport security lapses.

“If detectable weapons can make it through security checkpoints, how can we expect to catch wrongdoers carrying undetectable plastic firearms?” Israel told The Hill. “What could be worse than a gun that can be used on an airplane, but cannot be detected on the security line because it’s plastic?”

“It’s time to modernize our airport security so the American people can count on it,” he added.

So entirely plastic guns will now be doubleplus illegal! That will obviously solve the problem!

The number of laws on the books is now so extensive that even the politicians don’t know them all. Manufacturing entirely plastic guns has been illegal for a long time. In addition to the fact this bill is entirely redundant we also have the fact that 3D printed firearms still fire regular cartridges, which are made of metal. A plastic firearm with no ammunition is a worthless weapon. There is also the problem of who is administering airport security:

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) failed a recent sting operation in which undercover agents sneaked fake explosives and weapons through airport security in 67 out of 70 tests, or about 95 percent of the time.

According to Israel (the politician, not the country) TSA’s 95 percent failure rating is one reason to pass this bill to make what is already illegal illegaler. I’m not sure how that makes sense since TSA hasn’t been missing plastic guns but actual metal guns. Something tells me Israel isn’t the sharpest tool in the congressional toolbox (but he is a tool).

It would be improper of me to not point out the most obvious flaw in Israel’s clever plan. Anybody who is willing to sneak a weapon onto a plane to kill people is not going to comply with a law that requires them to include metal in their 3D printed firearm. This law is therefore pointless on two levels.

Thou Shalt Not Discuss Manufacturing Firearms

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.

It Prints Money

It’s not very often that a politician who supports gun control proposes a gun related bill that I support. The planets must have aligned though because Rosa DeLauro, some politicians from Connecticut, is putting forth a bill that is meant to eliminating semi-automatic rifles with aesthetically offensive features. Instead of banning them outright though DeLauro’s bill would give gun owners who turned in their aesthetically offensive rifles a sizable tax credit:

The Support Assault Firearm Elimination and Education of our (SAFER) Streets Act expected to be reintroduced next week by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) would provide gun owners with an incentive to turn in their firearms to local police departments.

“Assault weapons are not about hunting, or even self-defense,” DeLauro said. “There is no reason on earth, other than to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible, that anyone needs a gun designed for a battlefield.”

Though DeLauro is in favor of stronger guns laws that would completely ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, she emphasized this bill would not force gun owners to turn in their firearms.

The legislation would provide up to $2,000 in tax credits for gun owners who voluntarily hand over assault weapons to their local police departments.

I wonder how long it took her staffers to come up with that title. Setting aside her absolutely idiotic view about aesthetically offensive rifles this bill is actually a good idea. Why? Because it allows anybody who can legally possess a firearm to print money:

Wilson’s latest radically libertarian project is a PC-connected milling machine he calls the Ghost Gunner. Like any computer-numerically-controlled (or CNC) mill, the one-foot-cubed black box uses a drill bit mounted on a head that moves in three dimensions to automatically carve digitally-modeled shapes into polymer, wood or aluminum. But this CNC mill, sold by Wilson’s organization known as Defense Distributed for $1,200, is designed to create one object in particular: the component of an AR-15 rifle known as its lower receiver.

For the initial investment of $1,200 plus some additional money for blocks of aluminum you can net yourself a potential $2,000 tax credit every year! Or you could invest in a 3D printer and manufacture plastic lowers for even greater profit! The possibilities are limitless. You could then use the money you saved on your taxes to buy yourself a nice AR-15, SCAR, Tavor, or other modern rifle.

Sounds too good to be true? If you read the legislation there are no exceptions for home manufactured firearms. It merely says the weapon must be legally possessed and it is legal for anybody who can possess a firearm to manufacture one so long as they don’t transfer it to another person. The bill then lists what it considers an “assault weapon” to be and AR-15s are prominently on the list. Furthermore the lower is the piece legally considered a firearm on an AR-15 so you don’t need to surrender a fully assembled rifle. Unless I missed something, which is always a possibility, there is nothing in this bill that would bar somebody from manufacturing a cheap AR-15 lower and turning it in for a tax credit every year (sadly the bill does limit a person to only one tax credit per year).

Imagine if every person who could legally possess an aesthetically offensive rifle turned in a cheap chunk of plastic every year to enjoy a $2,000 tax credit. It would really help bleed the state dry. For that reason alone I support this bill and hope others will join me in my quest to utilize it to its maximum potential.