Facebook Removes Blueprints for 3D Printed Guns

Image courtesy of cgphoenix | Deviant Art

Minh Hua
Campus Beat Reporter

On August 9, Facebook announced that it will remove content from its site that provides instructions for 3D printing firearms. This announcement is reflective of a larger problem that both the technology industry and consumers are facing: the unprecedented revolution of technology-enabled crime.

In a press release, a Facebook spokesperson said “Sharing instructions on how to build firearms using 3D printers is not allowed under our Community Standards,” which now prohibits “the purchase, sale, or trade of firearms” through its site.

Although 3D printers are immensely useful, able to print everything from food to medical models to buildings, they also have potential for criminal misuse (as addressed in Facebook’s most recent announcement).

According to USA Today, 3D printing is an additive process where a special type of printer “applies layer after layer of a specific material — plastic, for example — in a specific shape until a three-dimensional object slowly arises.”

This process allows individuals to print parts of a firearm, using those parts to assemble a functional weapon. Additionally, 3D printers will eventually become cheaper and more accessible, making it easy for anyone to create a deadly firearm.

Discussions about the dangers of 3D printing were sparked when Cody Wilson became the first person to print and fire a 3D printed gun in 2013.

Though the Obama administration banned Wilson from publishing the blueprints online, Wilson challenged the administration’s order by waging legal battles with the Supreme Court over his company’s right to publish the plans, citing his First Amendment rights. Consequently, the debate revolving around the distribution of these plans has been about personal rights versus public safety.

3D printed guns “lack the serial numbers that register[ed] mass-produced guns with the federal government, so they cannot easily be traced,” said The Economist. In this sense, it is far more difficult to track a criminal using a 3D printed gun than one who uses a registered firearm. Additionally, 3D printing a gun doesn’t require a background check, which gives potentially unsafe gun owners access to guns.

The prevalence of technology in the 21st century is a double-edged sword. Nearly everything in the modern world is made up of hackable computer software, which creates a complicated set of problems.

In an article promoting his most recent book, Marc Goodman, a cyber security expert, explains how our relationship with technology has allowed criminals to invade our private lives.

One example Goodman gives regards a girl who “got an email that contained pictures of her, naked, in her own bedroom” because one of her classmates hacked her laptop’s camera. Though the hacker was arrested and sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, the fact that he was able to easily gain access to her computer camera is evidence that Goodman uses to support the need for increased cybersecurity.

Goodman also cited a private group lifting the fingerprints of the German Minister of Justice, replicating them using a 3D printer, and placing them at crime scenes all over Germany as an example of how technology can be used to infringe upon privacy as well as damage reputation.

These are just a few of the many examples of how technology can be used to criminally infringe upon our privacy and biology.

Although technologically based crime is evolving into a rapidly growing issue, recognition of this new type of crime is also growing, with politicians and private individuals beginning to take preventive measures.

Many futurists and security experts also have suggestions on how to combat the criminal potential of certain technologies.

For instance, Goodman recommends law enforcement crowdsourcing, which entails a large group of people with technology backgrounds or knowledge working together to find solutions.

“Organized crime is already adept at crowdsourcing, using criminal networks to rob thousands of ATMs at once. Law-abiding citizens need to respond in kind,” said Goodman in an interview with Wired.

The State of California passed a measure this July that broadened the types of firearms that needs to be registered, including homemade guns. This measure may partially solve the issue of tracing 3D printing guns, but its efficacy remains to be seen.

The emergence of technology-enabled crime provides a glimpse of society’s possible future. Ars Technia, a technology based publication, published a piece explaining how the internet may evolve into a “conflict domain,” becoming “just like every physical domain of human existence: turf to fight over.” However, if law enforcement can adapt and evolve alongside technology, this new type of crime may become increasingly controlled.