Friday, May 10, 2013

ITAR Kabuki

I was one of the guys who had this T Shirt:

Back In The Day, encryption was considered a munition, controlled under the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (ITAR).  Actually it still is, but the interpretation is a little less stupid than it was: back then computer source code that could be compiled into a program that would encrypt data was considered a munition and export (including posting on the Internet) was forbidden by the Fed.Gov.

Then Phil Zimmerman wrote a program called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and all hell broke loose.

Zimmerman was criminally investigated for posting his source code.  The reaction was sort of a crypto-nerd version of the Streisand Effect, with people coming out of the woodwork to mirror the source code all over the world.  The T-shirt is a different flavor of mockery: it's 3 lines of PERL code that implements the RSA encryption algorithm.  It was in theory illegal to wear this shirt when you left the country.

After three years, the Fed.Gov gave up.  No charges were filed, and people freely downloaded PGP from wherever they wanted.  If you have a commercial product you still need an export license if it contains crypto, but there have been no more hassles about people posting technical documents since 1996.

Until now.  Tam goes into some depth about what ITAR means for firearms components, but my take is that none of this really matters.  It's Security Kabuki by the Fed.Gov.  They know that the Defense Distributed design is being hosted all over the world (I hear that it's up on Kim Dotcom as well as Bittorrent).  The folks at Defense Distributed have made their point and gotten their press, so it doesn't hurt them to take down their web site:
Wilson says he will comply with the order. But he points out that given the nature of the Internet, that doesn't mean it will be taken down off of all servers. In fact, it almost certainly won't mean that.
Despite taking down his files, Wilson doesn’t see the government’s attempts to censor the Liberator’s blueprints as a defeat. On the contrary, Defense Distributed’s radical libertarian and anarchist founder says he’s been seeking to highlight exactly this issue, that a 3D-printable gun can’t be stopped from spreading around the global Internet no matter what legal measures governments take. “This is the conversation I want,” Wilson says. “Is this a workable regulatory regime? Can there be defense trade control in the era of the Internet and 3D printing?”

But everyone knows that the toothpaste is out of the tube.  We know it.  The Fed.Gov knows it.  And we know that they know.  The Internet has already detected the censorship, interpreted it as damage, and in a millisecond was able to route around it. 

Or guns, it seems.  Mockery will infuriate the Empty Suits, inflaming them to still more idiocy.  Mock away.  It's Happy Culture Warrior time.


Anonymous said...

[obligatory Firefly reference]Can't stop the signal[/obligatory Firefly reference]

Since you left it out.

Tam said...

I'll bet the federal government is really glad they funded the construction of a robust dispersed communications network designed to route information successfully, even through the catastrophic damage caused by a nuclear war.

Golf clap, gentlemen. If ever there were a more beautiful and poetic illustration of what it means to be "hoist by one's own petard", I am unaware of it.

A Reader said...

ASM826 said...

Slashdot has an article up on this topic and in the comments there is a link to the 1969 U.S. Army Improvised Munitions Manual. That manual includes specific plans to manufacture single shot pistols and shotguns. And you don't a $10K printer to do it.

Once humans have figured out how to do a thing it's a fool's errand to try to put the genie back in the bottle.

Windy Wilson said...

The idiom I read this morning that was most piquant wasn't "toothpaste back in the tube" or "genie back in the bottle", it was "$h1t back in the cat", which does not capture the essence of what is out, but it does capture perfectly the trouble that will ensue if you try to undo the deed.

VStar Granny said...

Oh, Windy, that is perfect. I'm going to borrow it, but will credit you!