As a matter of course, I turn to Slate when I want to find a story to ridicule or debunk. It’s not usual for me to find a story there that I actually agree with. When it comes to personal politics, Slate and I have very little in common.
But, even a blind squirrel can find a nut, it seems.
On Monday, a federal court in Washington state blocked Cody Wilson and his company Defense Distributed from putting his 3D-printed gun schematic online. The court’s order—the latest in a years-long legal tussle that has picked up this summer—largely focuses on government rulemaking procedures, but a number of times it has to consider how technology works. When it does, it manages to get the technology remarkably wrong.
Perhaps the most comical of these is when the decision considers whether letting the schematic go online will cause “irreparable harm.” Most of the files are already online, Wilson’s attorneys argued, so what’s the harm in putting them up yet again? Yet the court disagreed, saying those online copies might be hard to find—only “a cybernaut with a BitTorrent protocol” could locate them “in the dark or remote recesses of the internet.”
Put aside that those “dark or remote recesses” are websites with URLs literally written on court filings in front of the judge. Put aside that the websites are accessed by HTTP, not BitTorrent. Put aside that “cybernaut” is Web 1.0 terminology that peaked in 1999. The phrasing “cybernaut with a BitTorrent protocol” is just grammatically weird. A protocol is computer-speak for a language—not the sort of thing one can possess. One can have a BitTorrent application, but not a BitTorrent language. Plus, no one uses the indefinite article “a” in front of a language. To a computer scientist, it’s like referring to Noah Webster, armed with an English.
Other errors in the decision are deeper and more fundamental. The law that supposedly prohibits the posting of the schematic is an export control law, the Arms Export Control Act, so nothing stops Wilson from distributing the schematic inside the United States. But posting the gun schematic online necessarily exposes it to foreign countries, according to the court, because “the internet is both domestic and international.”
Slate goes on to point out that country-based blocking is a thing in this day and age, so it’s completely possible to prevent people from outside the U.S. from downloading the files.
In fact, Slate does a pretty good job of smacking down the judge’s decision on multiple levels.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to worry that Slate is about to compete with Bearing Arms or any of the right-leaning general politics sites when it comes to gun rights. Far from it. Instead, they seem to be addressing this as a “code is free speech” approach, which is fine. They’re not wrong on that front.
But it’s also a Second Amendment issue, and it’s good to see at least someone in the leftist media not so colored by their hatred of guns that they forget everything else they supposedly stand for.