DefCAD Triggers HTTP 451

Depending on where you live, pointing your browser to Defcad.com yesterday may have shown you something you’d never seen before. It certainly did for me. That’s because I live in one of the two states (as of this writing) in the United States which have scrambled to block access to the online repository of firearm CAD files after they were approved for release by the US State Department.

Anyone using the internet in those states was presented with HTTP status code 451: “Unavailable For Legal Reasons”. This code was named for Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451″, in which books are burned to censor the information they contain. Rather than simply returning the traditional 403 error, 451 can be used to signal that the server is willing to serve the user the information, but is being prevented from doing so by court order.

Whatever your personal feelings are on the public having unfettered access to technical information on firearms, this is still a worrying development. The First Amendment covers more than literal speech: source code and technical data is a form of expression just as much as a poem or song, and are equally protected. If the federal government believes the files that Cody Wilson’s Defense Distributed offers up are not restricted by International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), then how can a citizen of the United States not view them? The question remains unanswered and overnight a federal judge granted a restraining order to restrict the website for the remaining states.

State vs Federal Law

There’s a somewhat confusing intersection of state and federal laws in the United States, but the short version is that a state can make laws which are more restrictive than federal laws so long as they don’t directly contradict each other. This allows the federal government to establish a baseline, and each state to decide on their own how strictly to enforce it.

A classic example of this principle are seat belt laws. Since 1968, it’s been federally mandated that all cars have seat belts. Anything more specific than that, such as ages at which passengers must use them and fines for failure to do so, are set at the state level. However, a law which exempted vehicles from having seat belts in a particular state would conflict with federal law. If challenged, such a law can be thrown out under what’s called the Supremacy Clause.

In this context, the states in question (New Jersey and Pennsylvania) cannot block their citizens from viewing a particular website because that would be in violation of the First Amendment. Indeed, that’s exactly what Cody Wilson is banking on in the lawsuit he’s filed against New Jersey’s Attorney General. The case is somewhat complicated due to the fact that his settlement with the US State Department didn’t specifically state firearm CAD files are protected by the First Amendment, but only determined that they were not limited by ITAR. Now tied up in federal court, the Supremacy Clause will take precedent.

HTTP 451 Goes Mainstream

Published as RFC7725 in February 2016, HTTP 451 originally met resistance when it was proposed by developer Tim Bray in 2013. Some considered it redundant and not significantly different from the more traditional 403, especially since the HTTP status codes are a constrained name space. Why use up a status code when the same information could be conveyed with an existing one? But as more sites started to use 451 unofficially, it became clear the modern Internet needed a way to differentiate active censorship from a technical issue.

So who can use HTTP 451? Anyone who feels it’s appropriate. Nobody is required to use it, but if you’re in charge of a server and being asked to limit who can see the content it’s hosting, HTTP 451 might be for you. More often than not it will be done by the person who’s running the site which is the case here, but there’s even a push to get ISPs to implement it when they’re being asked to intercede in legal cases.

Eagerly Watching

Cody Wilson says 21 states are currently suing him; with injunctions by NJ and PA being the first at the state level. This kind of state-by-state control over content on the Internet is unprecedented in the United States.

The issues now being tested in the federal case are messy ones. If the DefCAD files remain exempt from ITAR, then the battle over who has access to them is likely to be complex and drawn out, giving way to a troubling scenario in which individual states try to control access to the Internet. On the other hand, if it’s decided that they should be controlled under ITAR, it will set a precedent that some 3D models are too dangerous to be released to the public. The issue then becomes how to decide which 3D models need restriction.

85 thoughts on “DefCAD Triggers HTTP 451

  1. Hehe. What’s next, open-source software-defined radio PCB layouts? Since, you know, all the base station spoofing possibilities – gotta limit that to the people in the black bus behind the civil rights protest march.

    1. HackRF has been out for a while and is highly capable, I’m surprised it wasn’t met with some animosity, maybe because most people and engineers don’t know what SDR is.

  2. ” Rather than simply returning the traditional 403 error, 451 can be used to signal that the server is willing to serve the user the information, but is being prevented from doing so by court order.”

    Because most of the servers and connections are in the US, were said court order applies. He who controls the physical infrastructure controls the internet. Obvious, but people seem to think the internet is this mysterious place that doesn’t obey the rules of the world outside of it.

    1. It would be pretty great if it were, governments are being petty at the moment. Also location of infrastructure can’t be the only thing that matters since for instance undersea cables will be in multiple countries and run by international companies. Who governs those ultimately?

  3. Another reason for concern is that a single politician in Washington state was able to block access to these files via 502/504 errors before the judge granted the restraining order. We like freedom in this state as long as it doesn’t make anyone feel scared.

    1. Or, Cody put up the block on the first sign of legal trouble, as that would get the most attention on him, and most people behind his back.

      The whole 3D printed gun thing is overly hyped, and feels a lot like a cry for attention. The worst thing is that politicians are responding to this cry.

      1. putting up the block at the first sign of legal trouble is also an indication to the courts that you’re sane, and willing to work with the legal system. defcad and the lawyers backing them are attempting to generate legal precedent, and know what they’re doing.

      2. Yeah someone could put together some legos into a particular shape, file some blocks into points, and turn it into a deadly weapon (that could cause injury, possible death)……

        Does this mean that legos should be outlawed ?

        1. You should of seen my lego gun I built at the age of 12… It was an inverted catapult design that we accidentally thought up when just flinging lego-technics bits everywhere… essentially an elastic band powered gun.

          The pros:
          It shot a center-punch through 3mm thick ABS,
          It was fun to build,
          It looked like something out of a zombie game.

          The cons:
          A lot of warped parts due to the stresses,
          Crushed the release pin after a few shots and required disassembly,
          Looses accuracy past about 2.5 Meters. (Still hits a 12″ target up to 3M)
          Had to be pushed back together after a few shots or it’ll disintegrate!

  4. There has always been black, and white, and that fuzzy grey area inbetween.

    You cannot put nuclear bomb plans on the Internet, that’s illegal and on the ‘black’ end of the scale. Webcomics and news sites tend to stay white, in the free-speech, fully-legal territory.

    In the middle, in the fuzzy grey area, are instructions for a plethora of chemical reactions, speech that may infringe on the rights of others, obviously hateful speech, and similar. There is content that is socially acceptable in some countries which is patently illegal in others.

    1. Actually even the nuke plans are a bit of a grey area. It is not clear if the ‘born secret’ doctrine that would make this illegal is legal in itself. It was going to come to a case a few decades back when somebody published research on bomb designs but the us government dropped the suit before this question was answerred.

    2. Nuclear bomb plans and operating principle are easily found on the internet. But it is impossible to gather required materials, even to big states like Iran.
      When it comes to 3D printed handguns you can buy all ingredients legally.

      1. Actually, according to Scott Manley, a lot of the details are still classified and secret, especially on how to shrink a warhead small then they dropped at the end of WW2.

      2. Just Google Nuclear smuggling, and the scary reports come out.
        Here is a particularly scary one…”In a 1998 incident, the Russian Federal Security Service reportedly foiled an attempt by “staff members” of a major nuclear weapons plant in Chelyabinsk to steal some 18.5 kilograms of unspecified weapons-usable material”
        Not enough for a nation, but plenty for a terrorist organization.

      3. Or better yet, people have been able to construct simple zip guns in their basements for decades with simple hardware found in any workshop or purchased at any hardware store. Like others here have said, I might would print a 3d gun, but there is no way in hello that I’d actually fire one! Besides… it’s not like the 3d gun is that freaking hard to design in any simple CAD program…. This is really a non-issue made bigger than it needs to be by the anti-gin leftists.

        1. Agreed: I’m against 3d printing guns because they suck so much. Seriously don’t understand why you’d want a corn-plastic firearm in a country where decent guns basically grow on trees.

      4. “Nuclear bomb plans” ? easily found on the internet ? HA ! you mean like the ‘forumulas’ in the anarchist cookbook ? puhleeeze…..you have no idea what “Restricted Data” (Q level access) is. The precision required in machining, chemistry and other disciplines is mind boggling (to achieve a nuclear yield). Hint: “IF” it were so simple, nation states (like Iran), would already be lobbing live warheads at Israel.

        Building a functional nuclear weapon is no easy task.

        1. “(like Iran), would already be lobbing live warheads at Israel”
          Ummm, no. The problem with nuking Israel (or at least trying to) would be:
          1) they also have somewhere around a 100 ready to go
          2) they have enough proven SRBMs and MRBMs to carry them. Iran…not so much…yet.
          3) they have fairly advanced ABM capabilities…Iran doesn’t have squat.
          4) even Iran understands that for every nuke sent at Israel, 5 would come back just from them. “some” other states would probably join in on the fun as well…

          And as for the reactor – not all that hard actually.
          Expensive, since it either needs to be very big or use exotic materials such as reactor-grade graphite or very pure heavy water. The reactor part is doable in theory even by amateurs.
          It’s the isotope separation that keeps nukes too expensive for anyone but states. It’s no coincidence that Stuxnet attacked Iran’s enrichment facility, not the reactor(s).

    3. “…In the middle, in the fuzzy grey area… reactions, speech that may infringe on the rights of others, obviously hateful speech, ”

      Actually, no. For starters, “speech” cannot “infringe on the rights of others” … unless you are talking about yelling fire in a movie theater. Then I can go along with that. As for “hate speech”… that is a subjective phrase applied to a wide variety of speech, quite often incorrectly, in an effort to stifle the 1st Amendment (here in the US anyway). The right to free speech is there to protect speech that is unpopular. That should be obvious since there is no need to protect speech agreed with by the majority.

      “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to say it…”

    1. But how do you know if you really can without testing it? I respect those that test our rights while it is easy, although I may not agree with them, to make sure we still have them when it is hard and we really need them.

      1. Ad hominem attacks do nothing to prove your point, logging into a vpn that gets you into one of the unblocked states and taking a screen-shot is a much better avenue.

    1. VPN might obscure or resolve the legality of *request*, but 451 is for the legality of the *response*. Whether you’re Main St in Middleton or adrift at sea, the legal environment at the server forbids the release of the information.

  5. I saw Cody uploaded a bunch of designs on Thingiverse last night with a mysterious and cryptic message. It was a bit alarming. This article sheds more light on the issue.

  6. When i just tried to access the site, i got this error


    This site, after legally committing its files to the public domain through a license from the U.S. Department of State, has been ordered shut down by a federal judge in the Western District of Washington.

    Join us to uncensor the site

    1 guess how you join up…

  7. According to my crawler’s data (which I point at potentially controversial articles), I see two comments deleted, for the most part saying, pretty much, “plenty of politicians are stupid lowlife/morons”. I’ve seen worse comments censored, and so far it seems it’s discretion of the writers that we have to trust – as we always had to, actually, and I’m fine with that.

    1. We can’t of course give just any comment here since HaD won’t allow that.
      I’m just glad to hear that HaD seems to oppose censorship..
      If you can read this it means this comment wasn’t deleted yet, possibly because HaD allows it to remain, yay!.

      1. I think those comments fell short of the “contribute to the discussion” guideline, coupled with “don’t be unecessarily mean” guideline. Both subjective, of course, but insight is good nevertheless.

        1. The Lady Lovelace article was censored deleting all comments that showed any sort of negative perspective at all, about 13 in total. Don’t fool yourself HAD isn’t as on board with free speech as you think.

          1. 1) no shit, it’s a sensitive topic 2) I never claimed they were on board with free speech. there’s a current trend of “going away from free speech and filtering stuff on your own platforms”. I’d like to better understand this trend (in general, not just on Hackaday), that’s why I collect comments.

          2. The tipping point on the Lovelace post was:

            a) it was all about the (necessary) positive effect of mentoring on young womens’ science careers
            b) people were writing frankly misogynistic comments
            and
            c) we received two comments from two fathers saying essentially “I’d really like to show this article to my daughter who has a budding interest in science, but I don’t feel like I can because of the comments.”

            And so, when the comments section gets so nasty that our target audience can’t / shouldn’t read the piece, we clean them up.

            The bigger Internet is full of hyperbole, bile, and aggression, and that naturally spills over into the Hackaday comment section as well. We _do not_ like it here or elsewhere. We (HaD editorial) can do something about it here.

            Type nice.

          3. @CRImer:
            If you want comments that show interesting behavior (From a behavioral psychologist point of view), then ask Hackaday for all of the comments from Unferium (all the blocked and non-blocked ones).

            I wasn’t sure why someone went rampage with that handle and other’s handles that I noticed being abused by the person… until I found out the cause of our work place being DDOSed.
            It is likely someone who worked for us had gone on quit-rage and some of us (Hackaday readers) were his victim…
            I think I know who, He learnt how to use Linux and set it up as a server, seemed to be script-kiddie like in his knowledge and thought of himself as a hacker.
            Our boss was going to sue him for inconvenience for failing to provide suitable notice to which his doctor supplied a letter informing our boss of said person’s “Mental breakdown”… Our boss knew to just drop the case.
            Since then we’ve seen slow downs and I’ve noticed rampage in the comments in Hackaday… seemed normal at first except when I noticed my old handle name showing up a lot (I actually posted about 3 times AFAIR with said handle).
            I don’t know what his actual intentions were, but I know there’s only two of us here that are capable of making a server or un-crippling his creation of a server (he had to cripple it as not to get done for intentional destruction of data). I know Linux enough to use it regularly… So that’s my theory as why I’ve been targeted… maybe he wanted to get me fired via false litigation issues by causing a stir…

            Sometimes the most powerful weapons are that of mad (wom)man!
            Then again I’d guess someone will take on the challenge of 3D printing insanity? If 3D printed guns aren’t insane enough.

            P.S. he used a bog standard router supported by DD-WRT as a reverse VPN, used the default passwords for the ASDL line routers and set up a TCP port for said router. He probably even read a “hackers’ how-to” off the internet to do this… LOL

  8. So, how to make pressure-cooker bombs, that’s legal free speech and available on the Internet. The Anarchist’s Cookbook, is free speech and available on the Internet. Luty’s book with full instructions for building a working submachinegun with hand tools and parts from the hardware store is legal and available for sale on the Internet, even in countries where possession of the finished weapon would be a crime.

    But plastic guns that are more hazardous to the user than the target… Those we’ve got to stop at any cost, free speech be damned!

    If this is allowed to stand, expect to see censorship of all kinds of other things take off. If you give an inch they’ll take a mile.

    1. Although a plastic gun still needs metal parts, they are minor, and plastic will pass through an x-ray machine. Perhaps the politicians are trying to curtail plastic guns (3D printed ones anyway) from making their way onto aircraft in the hands of no-gooders?

    2. “Anarchist’s Cookbook” etc. This. There are plans for tons of more dangerous stuff on the Internet, and with longstanding free-speech precedent keeping it available.

      I looked super-quick into the state’s case, and it looks groundless. I expect that these will get overturned, eventually if not real quick. (IANAL.) If it doesn’t get overturned, time to start worrying.

      It seems like the drone stuff. People who don’t understand “new” tech are scared of it. We, the folks who _do_ understand, gotta help them out. Otherwise they’re going to continue to be scared and pass ridiculous laws.

  9. Gun rights are only protected if a company stands to profit from them. If no corporation will make a profit then it will be illegal or made illegal shortly.
    This whole 3D printed gun controversy is ridiculous. If you fire one you are in as much danger as you would be if you were standing in front of the gun.

  10. Never before have I seen so much “whataboutism” and so many nonsense “existence proofs” in the technical community as I have in 3D printed gun discussions…

    1. Well, when you’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of “appeal to consequence” and “ad hominem” fallacies, you tend to just throw up your hands and go with the flow….

  11. I am all for letting the plans out. If an idiot wants to make one and kills themselves, I say that is a win in my book.
    Just like the idiots doing stupid challenges like swallowing tide pods. Hey the more the merrier.
    Thinning the herd. weeding out the chaff. Just like the crazy idiots doing stunts on their crotch rockets.
    Please by all means wrap your self around a power pole. Just don’t kill some one innocent.
    And these idiots stepping out of a rolling car to make a video of them dancing.

    I remember a movie called Idiocracy.
    It is starting to be a documentary not a scifi movie.

    1. +1 I’m pretty sure I can source 2 sections of pipe, a nail, and a shell a helluva lot easier than learning 3D printing/design or CNC, much less obtain reliable machinery…

  12. Freedom has always been and always will be an illusion. We are just cattle to the ruling elite. We don’t even get to choose how, when and where we die.

  13. Not that the injunctions mean all that much to those who actually want the files when I can find copies of the files on a number of torrent sites.

  14. So uh, took me about 20 minutes to knock up something in open scad that would probably fire a 9 mm cartridge (at varying degrees of risk to the operator)…

    I can’t understand why they’re so upset about a *design*… all you need is measurements…

  15. Is there really a cheap, 3D printer, that is as simple plug-n-play as the average inkjet? I want a 3D printer bad, but still waiting for one you don’t have to fiddle with much, everytime you print something. Really can’t see the average street thug taking the time to learn the machine, the slicer software, and have the patience to get the temperature just right, for successful prints.

    I really can’t see a printed plastic gun being something very many people are going to actually want to fire even once. More like as a last resort, where you are likely going to get hurt bad, or die, if you don’t. Think it might be good for a few rounds, but will get more dangerous each time, and fail quickly, with repeated use. Government has tried to control gun sales and possession, for as long as I can remember, and gun crimes still on the rise. The first printed gun hit the web a few years ago, so why now? Think it’s more of a political move, since mid-terms are near. Think that if there was anything to really be concerned about, with 3d printed guns, we would have heard about a crime or criminal with a plastic gun by now. Personally, I think the plastic guns are a good idea, since there is a far greater risk to the on firing it, sort of evens the odds a little for the intended victim. They also kind of miss another less attractive feature, they are single shot. Seems like the bad guys want semi-auto, and lots of rounds. People can buy assault rifles, but I really can’t see any other practical use, other than for killing people. Would be a great choice for food hunting, and sport killing is just plain wrong. Emptying a clip in the general direction of what scares you, is just dangerous and wrong, those bullets don’t just stop, if you miss the target. People want semi-auto, because they don’t have to waste time practicing, or learn to mack every round count, might have learn to be responsible in the process as well, or think a little, about what they are shooting at, before pulling the trigger.

    Really can’t see where 3d printed guns would ever gain an popularity for criminals, or many people at all. A few might print one, even fire it once or twice, just for the thrill, but most feel grateful to have survived, and leave it at that.

    How are these plastic guns invisible? the shells and bullets are still metal, likely the firing pin as well. You don’t even need a gun to be deadly. The 911 terrorists did use them to kill thousand of people, just box-cutter knives. Ceramic knives are the kitchen craze these days, aren’t they invisible at the airport, same as a plastic gun? Think that even if the progressives were able to make all guns disappear, it would stop the killing, plenty of other options.

    1. Do you know what they did after that, they passed laws about what you could possess on an airplane. Has there been a 911 style attack since? There are plenty of ways that someone can be horrible, but that doesn’t me we should stop trying to prevent them. Don’t be so quick to identify progressives as the issue, and maybe consider inaction isn’t effective either.

      1. Actually it is argued that the other changes were more effective then tightening what could be brought in carry on, the strengthened bulkhead to the flight deck, the pre-screening and no-fly lists, the added air marshals, the guideline change from follow the hijackers instruction to protect the passengers to keep them from controlling the plane at all costs. That is what deters people from trying to hijack airliners these days IMHO.

  16. Cody Wilson isn’t going to all this trouble over 3D printed gun plans! He’s selling a desktop CNC mill purpose built to churn out untraceable AR-15 lower receivers, which is an *incredibly* dangerous product to have on the free market. He assumes, probably rightly, that any ruling applying to the innocuous-looking 3d printed guns pictured by apparently every major news organization will also apply to the g-code for his cash cow. The “3D printed gun” is 100% a Trojan horse.

    I’m a civil libertarian in many ways and I think people should be able to 3d print whatever they want, but the infinite creativity of people acting in extremely bad faith is one reason why overcautious legislation is sometimes necessary. There should be no market for a desktop CNC mill designed to make unlicensed semiautomatic firearms, and if the government has to stop it by legislating with a hatchet rather than a scalpel, then so be it.

    1. You’re missing the point. I can make a pistol, rifle, or shotgun in my house using any materials I want, have no serial number on it, and it’s completely legal (as long as I follow rules about barrel length, etc.). It’s actually even legal to then sell, as long as you didn’t originally make it with that intent (but check your state laws). If some politicians have a problem with that, they can try to propose legislation to make the whole thing illegal. The real question here is why are they focusing on crappy 3d printed guns? Pondering that can be interesting.

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