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Friday 18.04.2014 | Name days: Laura, Jadviga

The next battle for Internet freedom could be over 3D printing

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The internet has traditionally represented freedom to many people. It has become a global commons where information is rapidly and freely proliferated, unimpeded by governments or corporations. The fear that this freedom would be lost formed a large part of the backlash against SOPA earlier this year. Soon, we will face another wave of potentially liberty-limiting legislation involving our internet activity.

To date, 3D printing has primarily been used for rapid commercial prototyping largely because of its associated high costs. Now, companies such as MakerBot are selling 3D printers for under $2,000. A current project on Kickstarter is attempting to raise funds for a 3D printer with a price of $1,199. Given the typical price and product cycle we’ve seen in the past, it would be no shock to see 3D printers selling for under $500 in a few short years, Tech Crunch reported.

Eventually, 3D printing will enable individuals to print just about anything from the comfort of their own homes. Already, hobbyists who own 3D printers are creating jewelry and toys. In the commercial space, 3D printing can print homes, prosthetics, and replacement machine parts.

Bad news are that 3D printers can also print guns and synthetic chemical compounds (aka drugs).

The potential policy implications are obvious. If high-quality weapons can be printed by anyone with a 3D printer, and 3D printers are widely available, then law enforcement agencies will be forced to monitor what you’re printing in order to maintain current gun control laws.

That is, unless federal agencies monitor every CAD file sent to a printer, whether or not it is harmless. Monitoring of every file sent to a printer means that federal agencies would need access to every home and office network.

It is likely impossible that the government will be able to successfully prevent every illicit item from being printed, chiefly because a 3D printer would not have to be connected to the internet to print from a local computer.

However, you can expect that a time will come when perhaps well-meaning politicians will attempt to prevent guns and synthetic drugs from being created using 3D printers. If passed, the resulting laws would be draconian in their invasion of privacy while simultaneously ineffectual in preventing the creation of the products they seek to prohibit.

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