Yesterday I urged y’all to take a chill pill over one of the proposed rule changes that the ATF is making regarding pistols. Today, we’ve got something a little different. The Department of State issued a notice on June 3rd in the Federal Register that they wanted to make some changes to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) — the documents that restrict what gear, tech, and info can be exported outside the United States. The focus of these changes isn’t on the hardware itself, but instead trying to lock down the information. The proposed changes seem to be pointed squarely at online exchanges which include technical specifications (gun reviews), schematics (3D printing diagrams), and training (RF’s beloved Self Defense Tip series, and other articles). It seems like a pretty blatant attack on the First Amendment as a workaround to stifle the Second, to me. Here’s what they propose:
- Software is now a “defense article.” Encryption programs like TrueCrypt as well as 3D models of firearms would fall into this category.
- “Technical data” is re-defined to include anything related to the development, production, operation, installation, maintenance, repair, overhaul, or refurbishing of a “defense article” (firearm). That basically includes every gun review, disassembly video, and how-to for cleaning a firearm ever produced. There’s an exemption for “non-proprietary general systems descriptions” and “information on basic purpose or function of an item” that would seem to specifically exempt reviews and basic training, but there’s no telling what they mean by “basic purpose or function.” That ambiguity could be used against people to the tune of millions of dollars in fines, and that’s downright frightening.
- The change in the meaning of the word “required” in context that they propose would make technical information about a “defense article” on par with the article itself. So if I sent someone the technical drawings for an AR-15 bolt carrier, that would be equivalent in the eyes of the government to me having exported an actual bolt carrier. It seems like this is another attempt to crack down on the distribution of technical diagrams for 3D printed guns, like Cody Wilson’s Liberator.
- An expanded definition of “public domain” now includes the internet, as well as any mechanism where further distribution of the information is not prohibited. They want to require anyone who wants to post “technical data” to this expanded definition of the “public domain” (forum posts on the internet, videos on YouTube, articles on gun blogs, old-school print magazines even) to apply to the government for permission before publication. If permission is not granted, the fines could range into the millions of dollars.
- Posting information to the internet is now considered equivalent to “exporting” that information. Even if no one outside the US ever reads it.
On the one hand, there seems to be some acknowledgement in the proposed rule change that a certain level of discussion of technical data in the public domain is A-OK and legal. Gun reviews and other associated postings should be exempt from the regulations, but I have no idea how liberally they are planning on applying these definitions. In theory, simply posting the caliber of a firearm online could be considered ITAR restricted technical data and incur millions of dollars in fines. Its all down to how they implement the changes, and who’s got their finger on the button.
Take a read through the proposal, and if you feel compelled to submit a comment you can do so either through this here website or by emailing [email protected] with the subject line “ITAR Amendment—Revisions to Definitions; Data Transmission and Storage.”
This is much more frightening than the proposed ATF changes to the definition of the word “pistol.” Orders of magnitude more frightening.