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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Rosenzweig on the National Security Implications of 3-D Printing

Over at Lawfare, Paul Rosenzweig has a post on how developments in 3-D printing may affect national security law and strategy.

Rosenzweig brainstorms a number of areas of national security law that 3-D printing will affect.  He notes that disarmament plans could be thwarted if countries could simply re-print weaponry, the importance of software in a 3-D printing world, and the implications of code being protected by the First Amendment in this software-dominated environment.

I have previously blogged about the implications of 3-D printing on firearms regulation and on how developments in 3-D printing are worrying European countries with stricter firearms regulations than the United States.  With the rise of 3-D printers that can print metal guns, these concerns will continue to grow.

One issue that I think should be considered when viewing Rosenzweig's list of concerns is the practice of encrypting the software behind 3-D printers.  As I have mentioned before, 3-D printing enthusiasts have already developed software that encrypt the files that are inputted to 3-D printers.  This software garbles the appearance of the object in the file and may help users circumvent copyright laws -- or other laws that prohibit the printing of certain objects.

3-D printing file encryption has mixed implications in the national security context.  On one hand, encryption makes it even more of a nightmare to enforce arms control treaties and the import and export of software that can be used to print weaponry.  If the software behind this weaponry can be encrypted, those tasked with the job of enforcing the transfer of this software and the weaponry the software produces will be even more difficult -- since software that can be used to violate arms control treaties will be more difficult to detect.

At the same time, encryption could have positive implications for countries who wish to keep their military secrets hidden.  Rosenzweig notes that classification of sensitive software will be crucial, and effective encryption measures can aid in this process.  Of course, if an insider ends up leaking encryption keys along with the software, the safeguard that encryption provides will quickly prove useless, but effective encryption methods may serve as one line of defense against the leaking of crucial military technology.

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