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Brazil to Defend Against NSA Snooping

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | October 15th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

 

[Image Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP]

Over the weekend, Brazil announced its plans to throw off the NSA’s ability to snoop in on their internal affairs. The system is still in development, but the idea is that a new form of secure communication is being developed that will not allow traditional NSA intrusions into it. The move comes after revelations that the NSA had infiltrated Brazilian governmental communications. An email system with the same intent is being developed for the public.

If only the same was happening in the U.S… But oh well, I’m relatively happy for Brazil actually doing something about the NSA. This brings up the idea of extra-legal justice: since the NSA is actively violating legal and moral standards, it is certainly acceptable to abandon diplomatic channels and solve the problem unilaterally. A similar solution needs to be developed in the U.S. I’ve put forth the needs for privacy before, so I’ll keep it short– it’s not just the idea that you’re being watched, it’s the mentality that comes with it: that one will never truly be able to create/express themselves freely without the threat of silent eyes judging them from some dark cubicle in some data center. It may seem like some paranoid musing, but we’ve seen after the Snowden leaks that at the very least, it’s not out of the question.

Anyways, it’s a slow news cycle: anything other than the debt ceiling, the shutdown, or the ensuing bickering that comes with it has been pushed way off to the side. Don’t forget to tune in Friday, when we’ll be talking about all of the above and more.

 

COUNTERPOINT airs Fridays at 1pm EST.

The iPhone 5s: the Start of Widespread Genetic Tech?

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | September 25th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

(Image credit: The Denver Post)

 

In case you missed it, the new iPhone went on sale recently. Normally this wouldn’t be even remotely newsworthy, but this iPhone is different: it comes with a fingerprint sensor.

The iPhone 5s (Apple’s latest offering) is able to read and store the fingerprint of the owner and if chosen, other people as well. I can’t possibly be the only one who smells something fishy here: hot on the heels of the Snowden leaks, the new must-have product just so happens to have this technology?

“But so what?” you say. It’s just a fingerprint, and those are taken all the time; for jobs, arrests, etc. so why does this even matter? Personally, I don’t think the actual data does, after all, I just said fingerprints are taken all the time, but this is huge for the “surveillance culture” we have creeping up on us: for the first time ever, there is the widespread use of a technology that uses a genetic marker to identify people on a regular basis. While I’ll admit that “fingerprints” and “genetic marker” generally aren’t lumped together as synonymous, “DNA” and “genetic marker” usually are, and that’s what this technology is paving the way for. That sounds far off into the future, but DNA-verification has been around for a while, it’s only a matter of time before it reaches the general public. What’s more, while it’s not generally accepted that specific genetic information can be reliably determined from a fingerprint, DNA-verification could pave the way for corporations to target ads with precision the likes of which has never been seen before on this Earth. Got a cold? (For those not familiar, the common cold– like any virus– can actually make slight alterations to genes) Your iPhone 151s could one day be offering you coupons for CVS before you know you’re sick.

Something to ponder as you go about your day.

From Under the Bridge to Into Our Hard Drives: Patent Trolls

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | September 13th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

(Image credit: iDownloadBlog)

 

You might be wondering “what on Earth is a patent troll?”, so I’ll tell you– “patent troll” is a label for any person/company/firm/etc. that makes a business of threatening to people for alleged patent infringement: almost homogeneously, these people buy patents from other companies/inventors with absolutely zero intention of using the patents for anything other than ammunition for litigation (not to be confused with the MPAA, the RIAA, or the copyright system in general). Rather than using patents in their intended manner– to ensure an inventor has time to complete his/her invention– the patent troll uses the temporary legal monopoly granted with a patent as a means to extort money from inventors who come up with new ideas/inventions or extensions on previous ideas/inventions that may at first glance seem similar to the patents which the patent trolls hold. It is estimated that any actual litigation that is brought by patent trolls and does not get settled before a court battle leads to the patent trolls losing over 75% of the time.

The patent trolls are not a new phenomenon, but they certainly have grown to prominence since the rise of big software. Software development is unique in that software’s “life” goes by considerably faster than most physical items and it is often the case that something becomes standardized in a fraction of the time of physical items. This creates the opportunity for mass patent trolling: if someone obtains a patent for a piece of software that has become a standard before the patent has expired, it is incredibly likely that someone somewhere has made an improvement on that standard, and since this improvement was not done by the patent holder, the patent troll has a prime opportunity to launch a legal missile. Another litigation-mongering opportunity occurs when a piece of closed-sourced software (not free for everyone to tinker with) resembling an open-sourced software (free for everyone to tinker with) that is not well known gets a patent, and since the open-sourced software wasn’t patented, the new patent owner can try to sue, even if the closed-source software was developed after the invention or even adoption as a standard.

These scenarios sound perfectly viable for patent trolls, but in reality, the “perfect patent troll situation” rarely occurs. Most often, the later example– of closed-source software patents being used to attack open-sourced software– is the case. Or not at all; sometimes the patent trolls simply choose someone who has just enough money to pay a settlement, but not enough to want to go to war with the patent trolls, which can get pretty costly, easily reaching the millions mark for a regular patent case. This is where the problem lies: the immoral patent trolls lose over 75% of the time, but simply by bringing a suit, they are almost guaranteed a settlement because the target often won’t be able to afford a lawsuit, even if they are innocent.

The solution? Make it so that it’s in the patent trolls best interest to be actually right about bringing a suit. Make it so that the plaintiff pays the fees if the case is found to be a pile of garbage. This would make it so that the average target of the patent trolls would be able to go to court and win ~75% of the time. This isn’t a fix in itself, but it’s a start. To be honest, I think the entire patent system is far outdated and needs to be updated from scratch to the modern world. Somewhere in that reform, I think the best way to stop wrong patent lawsuits is to place risk on the accuser as opposed to how it is now where the risk is all on the defendant. As a side note, it would be nice if there were no software patents, given the building-block nature of software itself, but I seriously doubt that a majority would go along with removing patents for software.

 

NSA Took a “Look-See” at Al Jazeera’s Internal Communications

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | September 1st, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Digital-surveillance-image-via-Shutterstock.jpg

(Image Credit: The Raw Story)

Since all the headlines are being dominated by the Syria situation, there isn’t a lot of current material for me to write about in my column, so this week, I’ll quickly touch on the favorite punching bag for the tech world at the moment: the NSA. A while ago, it was revealed by some of the documents Edward Snowden obtained and then released that the agency had hacked into Al Jazeera’s internal correspondences. The information comes a week after the revelations that the NSA had hacked into UN video calls.

I understand that “Al Jazeera” and “Al Qaeda” share an “Al” prefix, but seriously? It’s a news network, not a terrorism organization. The report cited communications sent to the network by “interesting targets” as the reason for the hacking. Even if the so-called “interesting targets” were anything/anyone that should be on the U.S.’s radar, it is unacceptable that the government is/was able to tap into a news source’s communications, no matter how “anti-American” their bias may be.

While anyone could probably guess what I think about this from the above paragraph, I think it’s worth mentioning that this seems to be part of a bigger pattern recently: as we learn more about the PRISM program and the NSA in general, the doomsayers’ predictions are starting to come true. As I said earlier, a while back it was revealed that the NSA spied on the UN video conferences, which is worthy on an article itself, but I’ll only invoke the fact that we are friendly and cooperative with the UN for now; the news that the PRISM program was used by low-level NSA employees; and also that NSA employees had regularly used the program to spy on their love interests, among other notable pieces of Snowden’s leaks. Taken separately, these are “only” egregious, but taken together, the chilling effects on personal liberties are potentially massive.

Personally, I think it’s time for another Amash Amendment to go up for a vote; this needs to stop.

Attack on Tor

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | August 8th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

(Image Credit: Tor Project)

 

Before I start, here’s a reference for those who aren’t totally sure about what Tor is or how it works–

(Image Credit: EFF)

 

Near the end of the weekend, somebody (I’ll get to who later) compromised Freedom Hosting, a hosting service that was heavily invested in Tor (The Onion Router). The company was responsible for a huge chunk (about half) of the hidden network’s sites and many of the more well-known ones including Tor Mail, a completely anonymous email service. The details of the attack are starting to be sorted out, but a few facts have already been nailed down. The move comes after Freedom Hosting’s founder, Eric Eoin Marques, was arrested on suspicion of child pornography, so many are speculating that the two events are related.

 

Tor network was originally conceived by the Navy as a way of anonymizing communications between correspondents, but was abandoned mid-way through development. It was later picked up by DIY-ers and completed into what we see today. Due to the nature of the network, any one user cannot identify another, even for server-client interactions, making a breach of anonymity from the inside near-impossible. The exploit in question was placed on Freedom Hosting’s sites after the company was either seized or otherwise compelled to do so (details unconfirmed at time of writing) and injected a JavaScript executable that made the target send an unencrypted request over HTTP to a specified server in Virginia, exposing the IP address of the user that normally would be impossible to find. Therefore, I’ll admit that the title of this piece is somewhat misleading: the network itself has not been compromised, but the company that hosted a majority of it has.

 

So: who did it? Many (myself included) initially speculated that the exploit was the work of the FBI, citing the arrest of Eric Marques, and the fact that it’s the FBI’s job (more or less) to take down child pornographers. As the matter was looked into it became apparent that the server receiving the non-encrypted IP addresses was owned by a corporation in Virginia that routinely leases server space to agencies like the FBI and NSA, prompting more speculation. However, at time of writing, nobody has stepped forth to claim credit for the exploit, leading some to wonder if it was a non-official entity. The latest evidence in the exploit points toward its purpose to be solely identifying and not actually hacking, so at this point, it’s anyone’s guess. Hopefully more will become known later this week.

 

If a state actor is responsible, I seriously question the motives. We can all agree that child pornography and abuse is bad by any measure, but taking down essential services that people the world over use to keep safe from tyranny or even just to keep private is not the way to go about removing it. Take Tor Mail mentioned earlier: with the recent revelation that the NSA is monitoring literally everything on the Internet, is it not reasonable that there was a push towards anonymous encrypted email? Heck, I myself have/had (depending on the outcome of this situation) a Tor Mail for the simple reason that I don’t like being spied on. Even if Eric Marques is guilty of hosting and distributing child pornography, I believe a more effective and efficient way to go after those responsible would have been to target the specific websites which are accused of doing so rather than the entire company that may or may not have hosted them. The FBI has previously been allowed to run a child pornography site before, and doing so in this instance would have made for a much shorter list of names than half of Tor network.

 

While this story is still developing, I want to end on a slightly inquisitive note: this happened during DEF CON (a hacker’s convention), meaning a good number of the people who bother to look into this kind of thing were busy out of town, and also on the heels of the NSA’s XKeyscore revelation, which “collects nearly everything a user does on the Internet.” These combined make me somewhat suspicious of this incident; more so than I normally would be for a compromise of a major anonymity service.

Not Aiding the Enemy, But Still Found Guilty

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 31st, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

Image Source: (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Unsurprisingly, I’m writing about Bradley Manning this week. In case you missed it, Bradley Manning has finally been given a verdict: guilty of more than a handful of crimes, but not guilty of one very important charge– aiding the enemy. I’ll get more into the specifics of that charge later, but the remaining 20 charges carry a combined maximum of 136 years in prison, so PFC Manning is anything but in the clear. The sentencing has already begun, and could last into the last days of August.

I’ve written on Manning before, so I won’t go into the back-story again, but I think it’s worth mentioning that he has already spent three years in prison before his trial, so it has been agreed upon that his sentence should be reduced by 1,274 days. Anyway, time to move onto the big charge: aiding the enemy and why even though he has been found guilty of other crimes, this one is a win for whistleblowers. Most of the logic behind going after Manning as harshly as the military did was something along the lines of “if it’s available for everyone in the world to see, then that includes our enemies, so therefore public disclosures are equal to giving the information directly to the enemy.” As I’ve argued before, this is not the case here, even though that line of reasoning may seem valid, one must take intent into account: if one’s intention is to truly “aid the enemy,” then it follows that one would not inform one’s own side of such aid, as making information public would. Instead, by releasing information publicly, it allows both sides to see it, giving a “heads-up” to both parties: the “enemy” side gets information X and the “non-enemy” side gains the information that the “enemy” side has information X, which could be useful to the “non-enemy” side.

Further to that point, Manning’s information was not immediately disclosed; it was given to Wikileaks, providing a window of time in which the military could have changed tactics, had any even been compromised in the first place. Given those two points, I believe Manning when he says that he was merely a whistleblower rather than a traitor.

As for the other charges: any wrongdoing Manning may have done is far outweighed by the benefit to the public’s right to know. This should be true of all whistleblowers: exposing something that needs to be exposed should not come with a life imprisonment threat.

More on the PFC Manning case this Friday during the show [1pm EST].

Amash Amendment Fails: Close But No Wired-for-Sound Cigar

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 25th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

(Image Credit: Florida Today)

 

Well, I was kind of hoping to be writing about a win for the Amash Amendment, but I suppose a loss will have to do. In case you missed it, the U.S. House of Representatives voted and ultimately defeated (205-217 with 12 abstaining) an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill that would have taken away funding for the NSA’s blanket telephone spying. The day before the vote, the White House and NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander held “emergency meetings” to urge Congress to vote against it.

 

Me being… me, I have to admit that I’m more than a little disappointed that this amendment didn’t pass. It would have been a quick and clean way to put a full stop to blanket phone surveillance while still allowing for targeted surveillance of suspects under investigation. That said, when the White House is scared enough to hold “emergency meetings” ahead of domestic spying prevention votes, I get hopeful. As the advocacy organization Demand Progress put it: “even though we lost, the other side is flipping out right now.” Not bad for an amendment that was voted on only two days after it left committee.

 

So where does this leave us? It seems to me that more or less, the vast majority of people are against the NSA’s surveillance programs (multiple ones have been revealed now: PRISM, ECHELON, BLARNEY, etc.) but it appears as though the tide is only starting to turn on the issue. Obama has welcomed “discussion” on the issue, but it seems almost impossible to have a well-formed discussion about it since the programs are already in place and running: it’s like a kid asking a parent’s permission to eat a cookie after he’s already started eating the cookie. As for curbing the surveillance programs, we might have to wait for the 2014 election cycle: all House seats and 33 Senate ones are up for grabs and at the rate the “spying discussion” is going, it could hopefully become a major issue.

 

In the meantime however, I would remain hopeful: the Amash Amendment might have failed, but that was only looking at phone surveillance, which has historically been less antagonizing than Internet surveillance. It might be just a tick away from justifiable to retain phone metadata, but I have a feeling that Internet surveillance won’t go over so well when the time comes.

 

 

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By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 12th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT
http://media.cagle.com/81/2013/06/27/133834_600.jpg

Image Source: http://www.cagle.com/2013/06/monsters-university/

While I am sure it will come up on the show at some point, I want to give a quick stance on the recent doubling of student loan interest rates. Congress recently failed to block a doubling of interest rates on federal student loans from the then-current 3.4% to the new 6.8%. Currently, both houses are trying to put something together to bring the rate back down, but there has been no official movement at the time of writing.

 

Students go to college more so now than ever before; it is almost expected that an applicant for most jobs have a college degree. Unfortunately, and I think many people can relate, college isn’t exactly cheap, so the government was nice enough to help out. Of course, like all loans, the government charges interest, which used to be a bearable 3.4%, but which is currently 6.8%. As it is, the stereotype is that after graduation, the students start working at the lowest rung and earn just enough to eek out a living after paying their rents/mortgages/bills and loans back.

 

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue: you can’t take money from people who don’t have any. As I said above, the stereotype is that college students don’t have much money, since they are most likely going to school to be able to get a job in the first place. But on the other hand, the government has no obligation to give these loans, nor does it have an obligation to keep them at 3.4%, but since it has offered, and considering the other offers, like banks getting loans with near-0% interest, interest should at least be allocated appropriately.

 

Ultimately, it is still up to the student to accept the loan, and it isn’t wrong for the government to ask for the double rate, but it simply doesn’t make sense to. Either private lenders will beat the government, like any free market has the capacity to do, or the percentage of students going to school may drop for fear of being unable to repay. We certainly don’t want to end up with a generation deeply indebted from their college educations, but at the same time, there is no obligation for the government to make it cheap. The government guarantees 12 years of schooling; a high school diploma, and everything else is optional, even if it is preferred.

 

I think I can sum up my stance here with an simple analogy: if you want orange juice, you’ll likely get more from the fat, juicy, plump orange than you will from the one that’s yet to ripen and still green.

Snowden Episode II

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 4th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

2013 Mike Kanoff

I’ve been away from the Edward Snowden story for a while, so this week, I thought I’d touch on it again and see what’s changed. After a somewhat-tense departure from Hong Kong, Snowden has been in international limbo for a week, stranded at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport since the U.S. government revoked his passport, which left him with no valid travel documents, and now he cannot enter any other country or leave the waiting area of the airport. During his time cooped up, he has been busy applying for political asylum from 21 countries. Additionally, Wikileaks, the online leaking platform famous for the cases of Bradley Manning and its founder, Julian Assange, has announced its support of Snowden and has joined in helping him with his asylum requests.

 

While the man himself continues to be immobilized, the NSA leaks have shown no signs of stopping: it has recently been reported that the controversial NSA programs have not been confined to the U.S., with some European Union member countries finding bugs in embassies and network intrusions believed to be linked to the NSA after a document Snowden released named foreign embassies and missions as possible “targets.”

 

I guess I’ll start with the big question: where will Snowden go? Russia has offered to let him stay, but with the catch that he “stop doing work that is aimed at harming our American partners.” Putin’s offer seems more than a little suspicious, but could be a subtle concession to America while remaining in a strong position at the negotiating table, since Russia doesn’t really do extraditions, or he could be hedging his bets. Regardless, for the moment, Snowden will not be turned over the the U.S. Also, a handful of nations have replied to Snowden’s requests for asylum with the message that he must be on their soil to make such a request, but Bolivia has said that it would favorably consider his application, without explicitly demanding he be on their soil, which led many to believe that Bolivia could be the country to grant Snowden asylum. Wednesday (local time), the Bolivian president’s plane from Russia heading home was disallowed clearance over French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese airspace because of a rumor that Snowden may have been on board, as speculated by the announcement of possible asylum. That story is still developing at time of writing, but it was released that Snowden was indeed not on the plane when it circled back and landed in Vienna.

 

Personally, I’m hoping that we find out in a couple days that he was in a secret compartment or something and actually made it to Bolivia; with the assertions of U.S. spying in the EU (which I will get to shortly) and the global nature of the Internet and the NSA’s spying thereof, and not to mention Biden’s request for Ecuador to deny Snowden’s application, it seems to me that the U.S. is starting to play dirty. Therefore, if the U.S. is violating the human rights to privacy and to seek asylum, I say it’s fair game if Snowden gets sneaked into a country willing to protect him. Snowden himself alleges that the U.S. is “wheeling and dealing” with his case, and I’m inclined to agree, though there is very little evidence at this time other than Biden’s talk with Correa.

 

So while Snowden himself is trying to find a safe haven, his leaks are doing anything but hiding. It was revealed that the U.S. has been spying on not just ourselves, but our European allies. Allegedly, the NSA has bugged EU buildings in New York, D.C., and most shockingly, Brussels. Additionally, it was revealed that the NSA was allegedly tapping the calls, texts, and emails of most EU allies, with the only exception being Britain. Unfortunately, this story is still developing at time of writing, but should these allegations prove to be true, EU member states Germany and France have already warned of severe repercussions, and it would be logical to expect others to join them.

 

I think we can safely say this isn’t just about terrorism any more. Last time I checked, the EU was very distinctly not a hotbed of terrorism or related activities. What’s more, the EU and its member states are our allies. I’m pretty mad (putting it lightly) that my own government is spying on me. I can only imagine the outrage to be felt by Europeans should it be confirmed that not only is another government spying on them, but an allied government. The president has released a statement along the lines of “everybody who runs intelligence services does this, not just us,” and I’ll concede that he’s right, but we’re talking about our allies, our friends on the international stage. I could see this with China, Saudi Arabia, Russia: our “friends” friends, but this is the EU– we have almost identical goals, we’ve covered each other’s backs for decades– friends don’t spy on friends.

 

I’m left asking “why?” We don’t need to spy on the EU: they’ll tell us what we want to know within reason. Even if they were hiding something, so what? We’re so deeply intertwined that if anything bad happens to one, it affects the other. If it’s anything that’s only good for the EU without being good for the U.S., well… we deal with other countries too; we’re not in an exclusive relationship. Bottom line– I see absolutely no reason to spy on the EU: the European Union is thoroughly uninteresting in terms of threats to the U.S.’s security.

 

A quick parting remark on the home front: people like myself, who have gotten pretty angry with the NSA’s revealed activities, are staging nation-wide and Internet-wide rallies to try to “Restore the Fourth,” on… you guessed it, the 4th of July, and apparently there are a lot of us. I’m not quite sure we’ll have the massive turnout or presence that Egypt just experienced, but here’s hoping for the best. For more information visit http://www.restorethefourth.net/, or if you prefer to save your anti-spying sentiment for a non-holiday, that’s cool too. Either way, enjoy your 4th!

The XYZs of 3D-Printing

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | June 27th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

<<Featured Image Credit: Michael Thad Carter for Forbes

Briefly during past editions of Counterpoint, we’ve brought up the topic of 3D-printing. I figured that since this week’s show will likely be all about the Supreme Court cases, I’d take up a less well-known topic.

 

3D-printing: it’s like regular printing– same idea, different material– but the extra dimension opens up so many possibilities. Where 2D-printers use ink jets or lasers to produce an image on a sheet of paper, 3D-printers use plastic (usually ABS, the stuff LEGOs are made of) to produce objects in 3-dimensional space. I’ll leave the tech component there; more information can be found by starting here. So how does this technology have a political impact? I find most of the political conversation boils down to a question along the lines of “who should be able to print what?” and then is usually divided between the copyright/patent sphere and the firearms-related sphere, recently catapulted into the spotlight by the Liberator pistol.

 

There was a time when copyright was good… a couple hundred years ago. Today, it’s all about DRM (Digital Rights Management) and preventing “piracy.” If you’ve ever changed cell phone brands and wanted to take your music with you from one to the other, you’ve likely encountered DRM; the thing stopping you from playing your imported music on your new device. And the best part, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t even work: the “piracy” it’s supposed to stop has yet to be stopped from circumventing any and all forms of DRM, and it all winds up being just a pain to the average, non-pirate consumer.

 

I could go on about how DRM is the demon-spawn of consumer unfriendly business strategy and asinine understanding of technology, but for the sake of time, I’ll assume my point has been made by now. The reason I’m bringing this up is that there have recently been murmurs of trying to create a platform/standard/expectation for soon-to-be commercially available 3D-printers to have built-in DRM. This would mean that when someone would buy a 3D-printer, they would be restricted from printing objects on a “blacklist” of sorts; likely copyrighted/patented objects or soon-to-be copyrighted/patented objects, but possibly other things, and possibly for completely non-legal reasons, like maybe the parts for building a new 3D-printer.

 

This is dangerous: if we censor one object, why not another? And for that matter, who gets to decide what everyone else can and cannot print? Those EULAs (End-User License Agreements) everyone blindly accepts could easily hide a clause barring a user from doing something economically hindering to the manufacturer, like using the purchased 3D-printer to print most of the parts for another 3D-printer for a friend (see RepRap). We’re talking about a complete overhaul of the entire manufacturing process; you think the toy makers, the Frisbee-makers, the anything-plastic makers are going to take this lying down? When the automobile was just getting off the ground, the Red Flag Traffic Laws were lobbied for by the stagecoach and railroad industries, which, as you will humorously discover by reading the article, severely crippled the automobile’s usefulness in favor of the incumbent industries. I have no doubt that a similar effort will be made against 3D-printing in the near future.

 

But staving off the impending “printing war” for a while, I’ll get to a possible weapon for such a war, the Liberator pistol. This is a pistol, created entirely from a 3D-printer, with the sole exceptions being a nail for the firing pin, and a chunk of metal to make the pistol identifiable to metal detectors. Yes it can actually fire a bullet; one at a time, with a reload required after every shot. The files for making the pistol were made unavailable after the Department of Defense Trade Controls (no, that’s not a made-up department) claimed control over the information and made Defense Distributed, the organization which created and made the files available to the public, remove them.

If you’ve been a long-time listener for Counterpoint, you might have picked up that I’m consistently neither pro- nor anti-guns, but I’m for this little plastic pistol. Yes it can fire a bullet, but only one at a time; it’s clear that this is a proof-of-concept rather than a mass-murder assisting device. Besides that, using it for malicious purposes has obvious dissuasion: It’s not very accurate, not nearly as sturdy as a metal counterpart would be, and again, can only fire one shot at a time. But it’s barely-veritable lethality is not why I support it; I support it because this is a showcase for what 3D-printing technology can do.

 

That… and the fact that trying to go against it is pointless. Within the first two days of its release, the files for the Liberator were downloaded 100,000 times, and at the time of writing, there are 15 separate torrents on The Pirate Bay believed to be containing the same files. The former means that many people already have it, and the latter means that even though the DDTC wants the files to disappear from the face of the Internet, the torrent to get them is available from “the galaxy’s most resilient bittorrent [sic] site.” The information is out there, and it’s not going anywhere, so it seems to me like going against it is pointless. As stated above, I really doubt this will be used maliciously, or even properly at all. It’s the bare minimum required to pass proof-of-concept, made for the sake of making it.

 

Oh, and if printing this thing sounds like a good idea, I wouldn’t: the DDTC is still working through this literally first-of-its-kind situation, so the legality may be in question, even with the metal block in the gun. Also, the pistol was printed on a high-end printer, not a regular consumer-grade one, so if something goes wrong printing it out and you fire it, you could lose your hand. Stay safe.