As soon as Robert texted me to let me know that Defense Distributed had been targeted by a Department of State letter to take down their files, I gave Cody a ring. I figured he’d be knee-deep in crisis management mode, but when he came on the line he sounded like the same calm, cool and collected Cody we had dinner with only a couple of days before. I asked him about this latest development, and the plan going forward and he laid his cards on the table for me . . .
What’s happened is that the State Department Defense Office of Trade Controls believes that Defense Distributed’s publishing of their Liberator files constitutes a breach of the ITAR regulations. These laws keep American-designed firepower from leaving U.S. shores without the approval of the State Department, kind of like a “prime directive” for information about firearms that keeps high tech guns out of the hands of developing nations. In theory.
In the mind of State, by publishing the technical details of a firearm on the internet, Defense Distributed violated one of the provisions of the ITAR regulations. In response, they drafted a letter to Cody and requested that he remove the files from his website. “Requested” being the operative word — there was no forced removal of those files by government hackers from DefDist’s site, and their website’s DNS remains unchanged. In other words, nothing on their website was touched by anyone but Cody and his crew.
In response, Cody decided to comply with the government’s request. For now. But as he noted when we talked, this isn’t the end of the road. The government has provided a period of time for Defense Distributed to reply and prove that their actions were lawful. And according to Cody, he thinks he has this rap beat. Apparently there’s an exemption from the ITAR regulations for non-profit organizations working in the public domain, which is exactly what they are doing.
What’s their next step? Cody said he’s reaching out to the EFF and some other California-based lawyers for help. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is to civil rights on the internet as the Second Amendment Foundation is to gun rights out here in meatspace. They’re a massive organization of lawyers and fundraising geniuses that have fought and won some important cases regarding privacy issues and copyright protection on the internet, and a fight like this one would seem to be right up their alley. However, since this involves guns and the majority of EFF donors seem to be of the Democratic persuasion, Cody might get the cold shoulder and have to resort to other lawyers to help him out.
Either way, this ain’t over. Not only is it impossible to undo the damage that’s already been done (over 100,000 downloads from Defense Distributed’s site, plus untold thousands via P2P torrents), but there’s no way to stop someone else from advancing Cody’s work.
Cody believes that this is a purely political move, one that will eventually be beaten. Though he hasn’t ruled out the possibility that he’ll end up in jail anyway. I asked him if he had any plans as to which books he’ll read. He said, “I already have my reading list picked out. It’s just a question of how many will be allowed in, and how many will be branded as ‘subversive material’.”