Code Is Speech

Liberator pistol (produced by additive manufacturing)There is a fundamental principle at stake in the current controversy, ignorantly reported and heavily spun, over the recent U.S. State Department settlement with Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation in which Defense Distributed essentially won the case it had been pursuing since 2015, clearing it to distribute design files for the manufacture of firearms and components which can be used to produce them via additive manufacturing (“3D printing”).

This principle is much simpler and more fundamental than the cloud of confusion and ignorance spread like squid ink by the slavers who prefer a disarmed and dependent population at their mercy.  It goes to the heart of free speech, and we’ve been here before.

The information required to produce an object via additive manufacturing is a computer file which gives instructions to the fabrication device to make the object.  This file can be expressed in text and looks something like this:

        solid cube_corner
          facet normal 0.0 -1.0 0.0
            outer loop
              vertex 0.0 0.0 0.0
              vertex 1.0 0.0 0.0
              vertex 0.0 0.0 1.0
            endloop
          endfacet
        endsolid

Now, this is hardly The Federalist Papers or Common Sense, but it is text which you could read on a soapbox on the corner to the bewilderment of everybody except for a few aspies furiously scribbling down the numbers to take back to their workshops, or publish in a newspaper or pamphlet.

A federal judge in the U.S. state of Washington has issued an order to block the distribution of computer files which the settlement permitted to be disseminated on 2018-08-01.  (Lest one confuse these judicial tyrants with those chronicled in the seventh book of the Bible, recall Jerry Pournelle’s reminder to mentally replace “judge” with “lawyer in a dress”.  This one was appointed by Bill Clinton.)

This is a fundamental attack on freedom of speech.  It asserts that computer files and their dissemination via electronic means are not protected speech, and that the design of an object can be restricted in the same way the physical object can.  These are ideas so stupid only an intellectual could believe them.

Now, I spent some years of my life building tools to create electronic designs and models of objects in the physical world.  This technology has become central to almost everything we do, from fabrication of microcircuits to automobiles to the creation of imaginary worlds for entertainment.  I am, as they say, invested in this.

This lawyer in a dress is saying that my speech, and your speech, in electronic form, distributed electronically, is not subject to the protections granted his, spoken in a courtroom or printed on paper.  He is saying that such speech can be regulated based upon its content, which the founders of the republic that pays his generous salary (extracted by implicit threat at gunpoint from hairdressers and cab drivers who only want to be left alone) rejected in the very first amendment to their Constitution.

As I said, we’ve been here before.  In the 1990s, when the fellow who appointed the lawyer in a dress was president and demonstrating by example his moral rectitude to the nation, the U.S. tried to declare that strong encryption, which would allow citizens to communicate without eavesdropping by the organs of U.S. state security, was a crime to disclose.  Once again, they tried to declare computer code, in this case encryption algorithms and applications, “muntions” and subject to export controls.  In the celebrated case of PGP, MIT Press published its source code as a book and challenged the U.S. government to prevent its publication.  The U.S. government backed down (but did not entirely abandon its stance), and encryption is now generally available.  (Want military-grade encryption entirely within your browser?   Here you go!)

We won then.  We must prevail now.  If the slavers win the argument that computer files are not subject to the protection of physical speech or print, then everything you publish here, or send in E-mail, or distribute yourself will be subject to the kind of prior restraint this lawyer in a dress is trying to impose on Defense Distributed.

This is where it all comes together—the most fundamental of freedoms—speech, self defence, and the autonomy of the individual against the coercive collectivist state.  If these things matter to you, consider joining Defense Distributed.

Disclosure:

Cody R. Wilson at Fourmilab, 2013-01-30I provided some of the early developmental-phase funding of Defense Distributed.  To the right is a photo of Cody R. Wilson on his visit to Fourmilab in January of 2013.  I am the “patron” described (in not-so-complimentary terms) in his superb 2016 book Come and Take It).  In our conversation then Cody persuaded me to get into Bitcoin.  That has repaid my support of Defense Distributed many, many times over.

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Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

18 thoughts on “Code Is Speech”

  1. Upon re-reading the original post, let me comment.

    From the original post;

    This is a fundamental attack on freedom of speech.  It asserts that computer files and their dissemination via electronic means are not protected speech, and that the design of an object can be restricted in the same way the physical object can.  These are ideas so stupid only an intellectual could believe them.

    Interesting thoughts, but, was it actually determined that ALL computer files are included, or just those for a 3D printed firearm?

    Not that I laid out several hundred dollars for two firearms to protect myself and my family, but a 3D printed firearm that can and will circumvent the checks in place to insure that firearms will only get into the hands of responsible people by normal means.

    Wait a second, I just know that the thought comes of those recent school shootings and countless other shootings, (that’s the reason I have a concealed carry permit, to protect myself and family), but of course there are people that willingly bypass the system to gain access to firearms. Those that are irresponsible. There will always be some, but to distribute computer files to let anyone with access to a 3D printer to make a firearm, well I’m not happy with that because of the potential dangers involved.

    The point is that it can be done relatively inexpensively. As opposed to the plans for a nuke or other weapons on mass destruction which would cost a heck of a lot more to complete. Or plans to make a metal version, one would need a machine shop, basement type in reality, and the knowledge of machine tools. But one does not hear of any basement machinists making weapons that are used in crimes.

    Granted this is “just a gun”, but go back into history, were designs critical to our nations defense protected at all cost? I believe design of an object can and should be restricted if it could cause, not potentially cause, but directly cause harm to another and is designed to do so.

    I don’t know, there is something with the whole idea of a 3D printed firearm that I’m not happy about.

    As for the interpretation that this covers ALL computer files or more specifically all 3D printer scripts, I don’t know if that “lawyer in a dress” knows what he’s talking about.

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  2. Is there a limiting principle? When does the information need to be protected? The extreme example would information to build WMD.  I agree that the 2nd Amendment is in place so guns are protected.

  3. Dime:
    Is there a limiting principle? When does the information need to be protected? The extreme example would information to build WMD.  I agree that the 2nd Amendment is in place so guns are protected.

    You can already get a lot of that information.  Total syntheses of nerve agents are in the chemical literature.  Diagrams of early nuclear weapons are also available.  Similar information is available for bioweapon production.

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  4. OmegaPaladin:

    Dime:
    Is there a limiting principle? When does the information need to be protected? The extreme example would information to build WMD.  I agree that the 2nd Amendment is in place so guns are protected.

    You can already get a lot of that information.  Total syntheses of nerve agents are in the chemical literature.  Diagrams of early nuclear weapons are also available.  Similar information is available for bioweapon production.

    I figured as much. What is your opinion on that being open?

  5. The idea that the government is going to limit what information that I can be exposed too has no limit. Anything can be a problem. This is saying that what information I can see, at home, in private, should be controlled by the government because I might do something the government does not like with the information.

    On those grounds, Common Sense well should have been forbidden.

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  6. OmegaPaladin:

    Dime:
    Is there a limiting principle? When does the information need to be protected? The extreme example would information to build WMD.  I agree that the 2nd Amendment is in place so guns are protected.

    You can already get a lot of that information.  Total syntheses of nerve agents are in the chemical literature.  Diagrams of early nuclear weapons are also available.  Similar information is available for bioweapon production.

    But how “easy” is it to do? Can any any school aged individual make up nerve gas or a nuke with the 3D printer their mom and dad bought for them? No, but they can make a gun.

    I wonder if replicators from the future will have a safety built in to protect / prevent the individual using it from making up a batch of nerve gas?

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  7. Gerry D:

    OmegaPaladin:

    Dime:
    Is there a limiting principle? When does the information need to be protected? The extreme example would information to build WMD.  I agree that the 2nd Amendment is in place so guns are protected.

    You can already get a lot of that information.  Total syntheses of nerve agents are in the chemical literature.  Diagrams of early nuclear weapons are also available.  Similar information is available for bioweapon production.

    But how “easy” is it to do? Can any any school aged individual make up nerve gas or a nuke with the 3D printer their mom and dad bought for them? No, but they can make a gun.

    I wonder if replicators from the future will have a safety built in to protect / prevent the individual using it from making up a batch of nerve gas?

    This is my concern. That in the future it might become too easy to destroy your city block. Is there any limitation on firepower? Should everyone be trusted with no exceptions?

    Should a citizen be restricted from secret information?

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  8. Dime:

    Gerry D:

    OmegaPaladin:

    Dime:
    Is there a limiting principle? When does the information need to be protected? The extreme example would information to build WMD.  I agree that the 2nd Amendment is in place so guns are protected.

    You can already get a lot of that information.  Total syntheses of nerve agents are in the chemical literature.  Diagrams of early nuclear weapons are also available.  Similar information is available for bioweapon production.

    But how “easy” is it to do? Can any any school aged individual make up nerve gas or a nuke with the 3D printer their mom and dad bought for them? No, but they can make a gun.

    I wonder if replicators from the future will have a safety built in to protect / prevent the individual using it from making up a batch of nerve gas?

    This is my concern. That in the future it might become too easy to destroy your city block. Is there any limitation on firepower? Should everyone be trusted with no exceptions?

    Should a citizen be restricted from secret information?

    We are going to have to figure it out. Bad actors will be able to bypass any security features.

    And, it is actually pretty easy to turn fertilizer into bombs today, if you have the will to do it.

  9. Bryan G. Stephens:
    And, it is actually pretty easy to turn fertilizer into bombs today, if you have the will to do it.

    Ammonium nitrate fertiliserThis is ammonium nitrate fertiliser stored in an open barn within 10 minutes’ walk of my house.  Mix it with home heating oil or diesel fuel, confine and detonate with an explosive such as a shotgun shell and you can blow up anything you think needs blowing up.  ANFO (ammonium nitrate/fuel oil) accounts for around 80% of the explosives used in North America.

    Tannerite is a binary explosive (sold in two components which are non-explosive until mixed).  Once mixed, it can be detonated by the impact of a rifle bullet.  It is unregulated and you can buy it through the mail.

    This stuff is just simple inorganic chemistry, mostly of nitrogen compounds.  You can’t restrict the information and you can’t restrict access to the materials.  That’s just the way the universe works, and if crazy people do bad things with this stuff, you have to work on the crazy people, not the stuff.

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  10. Gerry D:
    I wonder if replicators from the future will have a safety built in to protect / prevent the individual using it from making up a batch of nerve gas?

    Nerve gas isn’t the big worry—it’s grey goo.  Once you have a replicator which can replicate itself, it’s easy to make a little goof that consumes the entire biosphere or universe.  As Eric Drexler wrote in Engines of Creation:

    Imagine such a replicator floating in a bottle of chemicals, making copies of itself…the first replicator assembles a copy in one thousand seconds, the two replicators then build two more in the next thousand seconds, the four build another four, and the eight build another eight. At the end of ten hours, there are not thirty-six new replicators, but over 68 billion. In less than a day, they would weigh a ton; in less than two days, they would outweigh the Earth; in another four hours, they would exceed the mass of the Sun and all the planets combined — if the bottle of chemicals hadn’t run dry long before.

    He goes on to note:

    Early assembler-based replicators could beat the most advanced modern organisms. ‘Plants’ with ‘leaves’ no more efficient than today’s solar cells could out-compete real plants, crowding the biosphere with an inedible foliage. Tough, omnivorous ‘bacteria’ could out-compete real bacteria: they could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days. Dangerous replicators could easily be too tough, small, and rapidly spreading to stop — at least if we made no preparation. We have trouble enough controlling viruses and fruit flies.

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  11. John Walker:
    This stuff is just simple inorganic chemistry, mostly of nitrogen compounds.  You can’t restrict the information and you can’t restrict access to the materials.  That’s just the way the universe works, and if crazy people do bad things with this stuff, you have to work on the crazy people, not the stuff.

    Exactly.

    It also shows how little it matters the information is out there now. If society is going to come undone due to bad actors, we don’t need a few bombs going off. It only works as long as most people play by the rules.

  12. John Walker:

    Gerry D:
    I wonder if replicators from the future will have a safety built in to protect / prevent the individual using it from making up a batch of nerve gas?

    Nerve gas isn’t the big worry—it’s grey goo.  Once you have a replicator which can replicate itself, it’s easy to make a little goof that consumes the entire biosphere or universe.  As Eric Drexler wrote in Engines of Creation:

    Imagine such a replicator floating in a bottle of chemicals, making copies of itself…the first replicator assembles a copy in one thousand seconds, the two replicators then build two more in the next thousand seconds, the four build another four, and the eight build another eight. At the end of ten hours, there are not thirty-six new replicators, but over 68 billion. In less than a day, they would weigh a ton; in less than two days, they would outweigh the Earth; in another four hours, they would exceed the mass of the Sun and all the planets combined — if the bottle of chemicals hadn’t run dry long before.

    He goes on to note:

    Early assembler-based replicators could beat the most advanced modern organisms. ‘Plants’ with ‘leaves’ no more efficient than today’s solar cells could out-compete real plants, crowding the biosphere with an inedible foliage. Tough, omnivorous ‘bacteria’ could out-compete real bacteria: they could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days. Dangerous replicators could easily be too tough, small, and rapidly spreading to stop — at least if we made no preparation. We have trouble enough controlling viruses and fruit flies.

    The answer to grey goo is the same as the answer to bad speech: more goo.

    We need defensive goo ready to go, or already in place as defensive systems.

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  13. Bryan G. Stephens:
    The answer to grey goo is the same as the answer to bad speech: more goo.

    We need defensive goo ready to go, or already in place as defensive systems.

    Drexler’s term for this is “blue goo”, as in “the boys in blue”.  I don’t think he was aware when he coined the term that it has another meaning.

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  14. Oh for heavens sakes, I made a Zip gun out of a 53  Plymouth  antenna  and a sliding door bolt over 60 years ago. Where there is a will there is a way.

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  15. John Walker:

    Gerry D:
    I wonder if replicators from the future will have a safety built in to protect / prevent the individual using it from making up a batch of nerve gas?

    Nerve gas isn’t the big worry—it’s grey goo.  Once you have a replicator which can replicate itself, it’s easy to make a little goof that consumes the entire biosphere or universe.  As Eric Drexler wrote in Engines of Creation:

    Imagine such a replicator floating in a bottle of chemicals, making copies of itself…the first replicator assembles a copy in one thousand seconds, the two replicators then build two more in the next thousand seconds, the four build another four, and the eight build another eight. At the end of ten hours, there are not thirty-six new replicators, but over 68 billion. In less than a day, they would weigh a ton; in less than two days, they would outweigh the Earth; in another four hours, they would exceed the mass of the Sun and all the planets combined — if the bottle of chemicals hadn’t run dry long before.

    He goes on to note:

    Early assembler-based replicators could beat the most advanced modern organisms. ‘Plants’ with ‘leaves’ no more efficient than today’s solar cells could out-compete real plants, crowding the biosphere with an inedible foliage. Tough, omnivorous ‘bacteria’ could out-compete real bacteria: they could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days. Dangerous replicators could easily be too tough, small, and rapidly spreading to stop — at least if we made no preparation. We have trouble enough controlling viruses and fruit flies.

    How is Grey Goo different from an engineered bacterium?   You can get a bacterium or archeabacterium to eat just about anything, they reproduce exponentially, and they already kill people and destroy organic matter.   Engineering a bacterium is not hard, and I know of a case where a normal food poisoning  bacterium was upgraded with virulence factors from anthrax.

    We already live in the age of Khaki Goo.  They are moving around inside you and all over your skin.  When you die, they will devour your flesh.  Give them an opening, and they get started on the human flesh buffet early.

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  16. This article has been featured as the lead article in this week’s edition (Issue 984, 2018-08-05) of The Libertarian Enterprise.

    Ratburger.org asserts no copyright over anything published here, and members are free, and encouraged, to republish things they post here in other venues.  My work has appeared on several occasions over the last couple of decades in The Libertarian Enterprise, which as about as adamantine a libertarian publication as you can find.

    I managed to work a plug for ratburger.org and a link into the article posted there.  Perhaps we will recruit one or more independent science fiction authors of a libertarian bent, as many hang out there.

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