Rick Kelly, in this article on TechCrunch, takes techno-centric paranoia to the next level when he fires away at legislation nobody has yet proposed to regulate future possible applications of 3D printers. Strangely, Kelly cites some of the very serious potential hazards — like the ability to make a functioning firearm! — with this technology but proceeds to dismiss any such consequences as secondary to any anticipated attempt to consider even thinking about maybe just possibly regulating their use. Seriously? As full-grown adults, we’re meant to imagine a scenario in which a twelve-year-old can make himself an assault rifle or some crystal meth with a printer but think, “Nope. Any attempt to address that will necessarily infringe on our basic freedoms?”
Still pimping the victory over SOPA as a win for free speech, Kelly proposes, “Either we allow for the ambiguity that freedom and unregulated 3D printing will bring, or we enforce far-reaching laws that may decrease liberty without changing results.” This is one of the most consistent dichotomies fostered by those too distracted by shiny tech toys — that all laws pertaining to cyberspace and technology can only ever be both ideologically overreaching and functionally useless. Perhaps the best example of a law that could arguably fit this profile would be Prohibition — overreaching in principle and useless in practice — but even the 18th Amendment did not result in actual restriction of freedom so much as it fostered profitable and violent criminal enterprise.
In the broadest sense, Kelly merely describes the well-known price of living in a free society — that freedom means unpredictability. Nevertheless, we do find ways to balance this risk in order to avoid complete chaos. The expectation of privacy in virtual space does not apply to those who would use the technology to do harm in physical space. That courtesy is not extended to would-be terrorists, child pornographers, or human traffickers to name a few; and yet I see no restriction of my personal freedoms as a result. Moreover, Kelly and those who think as he does would do well to remember that when a government agency has reason to stick it’s nose in someone’s business, it will likely do so with the cooperation of Web technology companies and without passing any new laws. So, rather than focus on symbolic victories over imaginary tyrants, why don’t we have a grown-up conversation about what we might be willing to do about the real twelve-year-old printing the very real assault rifle?