The Future of Firearms: Legally Homemade Metal Guns

Metal-Gun-640x353Ever since 3-D printing became a commercially available service, Defense Distributed has sought to use the technology to create firearms. And in their latest act of circumventing the law, the online, open-source, libertarian group has created another means of building homemade firearms. But unlike the Liberator – their previous single shot incarnation – this one doesn’t involve making guns from 3-D printed plastic.

The group’s latest invention is known as the Ghost Gunner – a small, computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine that they used to create an aluminum lower receiver for an AR-15 rifle. This device, which costs about $1200, allows people with no gunsmith training to assemble a working assault rifle at home with no licensing or serial number. And for the moment, it’s completely legal.

metal-gun-inline22The Ghost Gunner itself is a small box that measures about one foot on each side and contains an Arduino controller and a custom-designed spindle that holds a steel carbide drill bit. It works like any other CNC machine – the drill spins up and moves in three dimensions to carve items out of blocks of metal. However, this machine is specifically intended to make an AR-15 lower receiver.

That’s the part of a gun that connects the stock, barrel, and magazine – and the part that’s regulated by the ATF and assigned a serial number. Selling it without a license is illegal, but making it yourself is perfectly fine. An untraceable gun built without a serial number is often called a “ghost gun” by gun control advocates. Hence why Defense Distributed chose to appropriate the term, to deliberately generate controversy.

Cody-Wilson-Defense-Distributed-Wiki-Weapon-3-d-printed-gunThis is just the latest example of Defense Distributed pushing the bounds of home manufacturing technology to make a point. Cody Wilson, the group’s founder, is an openly radical, libertarian who has repeatedly stated that mass shootings and gun-related violence are simply the price people pay for freedom. In addition, his group has openly stated that they would not allow tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting deter them.

Manufacturing homemade weapons has always been his way of showing that technology can evade regulations, thus making the state obsolete. The group’s previous weapons – the 3D-printed Liberator gun – was more of a political statement. The gun itself was neither effective or practical; but then again, it wasn’t meant to be. This proof-of-concept weapon was simply meant to show that a new era of manufacturing is upon us.

liberatorThe Liberator itself is prone to failure and usually only manages a few poorly aimed shots before breaking down. In designing a cheap CNC machine specifically to make gun parts, Defense Distributed is delivering a viable weapon at a fraction of the cost of other CNC machines (which cost many thousands of dollars). If you can make a lower receiver, all the other parts can be ordered online cheaply and legally.

 

The Ghost Gunner is capable of making anything that fits in the build envelope, which accounts for several gun parts that go into assembling a working assault weapon or handgun. The only requirement is the parts be created with Defense Distributed’s Physibles Development SDK (pDev) and distributed as a .dd file. In that respect, it’s not much different than any number of 3D printers.

3dmetalgun-640x353Once again, Defense Distributed has proven that, for better or worse, we live in an entirely new era of manufacturing. In the past, a person needed considerable training if they wanted to make their own firearm. Nowadays, one needs only the right kind of hardware, software, and access to the necessary files. And as always seems to be the case in the digital age, the law is miles behind the curve.

One can expect the law will be upon Defense Distributed once again and place a ban on their Ghost Gunner. However, it goes without saying that Wilson and his colleagues will simply try again some other way and the fight between regulators and home manufactures will continue. But regardless of the issue of firearms, this is an indication of the age we now live in, where distributed systems are making for some rather interesting and fearful possibilities.

 

Source: extremetech.com

Cyberwars: FBIs Facial Recognition Database

facial_rec1This past summer, the FBI was compelled to release information about the operational facial recognition database they working on. As part of its Next Generation Identification (NGI) program, this database is part of the FBIs efforts to build a “bigger, faster and better” means of biometric identification. Earlier this month, the FBI announced that the system is now working at “full operational capability”, and many people are worried…

To break it down, the NGI database is made up of millions of stored mugshots and other photos, which are then used when analyzing footage taken by CCTV feeds or other cameras around the country. The full deployment of the program comes three months after James Comey, the bureau’s director, announced that the agency was “piloting the use of mug shots” alongside the bureau’s other databases, in order to catch wanted criminals.

FBI_NGI_Slide_WideDesigned to replace the bureau’s aging fingerprint database, the NGI is different in that it is designed to be multimodal. This means that it will link multiple forms of biometric data to biographical information such as name, address,  ID number, age and ethnicity. It’s currently focused on fingerprint and facial records, but it will also be capable of holding iris scans and palm prints, with the possibility of added voice recognition and gate analysis (i.e. how people walk).

As the FBI said in a statement on Monday, Sept. 15th, the NGI, combined with fingerprint database:

[W]ill provide the nation’s law enforcement community with an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities.

Naturally, the worries that this database will be another step towards “Big Brother” monitoring. However, what is equally (if not more) worrisome is the fact that the details of the program are only a matter of public record thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The lawsuit was issued in June of 2013, wherein the EFF compelled the FBI to produce records in accordance Freedom of Information Act to detail the program and its face-recognition components.

facial_recCiting the FBI documents, the EFF claims that the facial recognition technology is not very reliable and that the way the database returns results is fundamentally flawed, as well as pointing out that it will indiscriminately combine the details of both criminals and non-criminals. Based on their own interpretation, they claim it could fail 20 percent of the time, which could lead to innocent persons becoming the subject of police investigations.

Nevertheless, the bureau remains confident that the system will simplify and enhance law enforcement both locally and federally. As they said of the program when it was first announced back in 2011:

The NGI system has introduced enhanced automated fingerprint and latent search capabilities, mobile fingerprint identification, and electronic image storage, all while adding enhanced processing speed and automation for electronic exchange of fingerprints to more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies and other authorized criminal justice partners 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

fingerprint_databaseIn 2012, the NGI database already contained 13.6 million images (of seven to eight million individuals) and by mid-2013, it had 16 million images. We now know it aims to have 52 million facial records in its system by next year, and those will include some regular citizens. This is another source of concern for the EFF and civil liberties advocates, which is the estimated 4.3 million images taken for non-criminal purposes.

Whenever someone applies for a job that requires a background check, they are required to submit fingerprint records. These records are then entered into federal databases. Right now, the FBI’s fingerprint database contains around 70 million criminal profiles, and 34 million non-criminal records. With the NGI database now up and running, photographs can be submitted by employers and other sources along with fingerprints, which puts non-criminals on file.

FBI-facial-recognitionThe database, while maintained by the FBI, can be searched by law enforcement at all levels. According to Jennifer Lynch, the EFF attorney behind the lawsuit:

Your image would be searched every time there is a criminal investigation. The problem with that is the face recognition is still not 100 percent accurate.” This means that the system is liable to make mismatches with data. If a camera catches a criminal’s face and that is compared to images in the database, there’s no guarantee that it will pop up an accurate result. 

What’s more, when the database is searched it does not return a completely positive result; but instead provides the top hits, ranked by probability of match. So if your face just happens to be similar to a snapshot of a criminal caught in CCTV footage, you may become a suspect in that case. Combined with other forms of biometric readers and scanners, it is part of a general trend where privacy is shrinking and public spaces are increasingly permeated by digital surveillance.

internet-of-things-2This sort of data exchange and on-the-ground scanning will be made possible byand is one of the explicit aims ofFirstNet, the nationwide broadband network for law enforcement and first responders, colloquially referred to by some as the “internet of cops”. Much like all things pertaining the expansion of the internet into the “internet of things”, this sort of growth has the capacity to affect privacy and become invasive as well as connective.

As always, fears of an “Orwellian” situation can be allayed by reminding people that the best defense is public access to the information – to know what is taking place and how it works. While there are doubts as to the efficacy of the NGI database and the potential for harm, the fact that we know about its inner workings and limitations could serve as a legal defense wherever a potentially innocent person is targeted by it.

And of course, as the issue of domestic surveillance grows, there are also countless efforts being put forth by “Little Brother” to protect privacy and resist identification. The internet revolution cuts both ways, and ensures that everyone registered in the torrential data stream has a degree of input. Fight the power! Peace out!

Sources: motherboard.com, arstechnica.com, singularityhub.com

Firearm Safety: Colorado Student Invents Smart Gun

smartgun1In the course of considering the rash of gun violence and mass shootings that have swept the US in recent years, a great deal of attention has become focused on “smart guns”. Incorporating the latest in biometrics, fingerprinting and wireless connectivity, these weapons are designed to only be usable by their rightful (and presumably, legal) owners. One such concept comes from Colorado – which has a history of gun violence – and from a high school student, no less.

His name is Kai Kloepfer, a 17 year-old a high school student from Boulder who just won the $50,000 Smart Tech for Firearms Challenge for his smart gun prototype. Inspired by the recent school shooting in Connecticut and undeterred by the lack of legislative change in Washington DC, the Smart Tech Foundation believes that ingenuity, technology and the invisible hand of the free market will persevere where the federal government has failed.

smartgun_markAngel investor and gun reform advocate Ron Conway became the main backer of the $1 million Smart Tech prize to spur gun safety solutions earlier this year. As he said to the SF Examiner in January of this year, he hopes people will “use innovation to bring about gun safety. Let’s not rely on Washington”. According to the Smart Tech Foundation, a total of 15 innovators will receive a part of that million dollar prize.

Kloepfer is the first to get the award. His gun design works by creating a user ID and locking in the fingerprint of each user allowed to use the gun. The gun will only unlock with the unique fingerprint of those who have already permission to access the weapon. According to Kloepfer, all user data is kept on the gun and nothing is uploaded anywhere else, so it would be very difficult to hack. This potentially makes it ideal for military use as well.

smartgunKloepfer came up with the idea two years ago when he needed something for his high school science project. The Aurora, Colorado shooting had recently happened just an hour’s drive on his home, and was on everyone’s mind at the time. Kloepfer’s parents helped him in monetary increments to get the parts needed for each improvement. It would eventually cost $3000 for the whole thing to come together, maturing from phase to phase with each science fair.

As he explains the inspiration and development process:

The idea came to me right as I was falling asleep. It was kinda in the back of my mind because of the shooting. I scribbled it down before I went to bed and fell asleep and then in the morning I began my research… At first it was just a concept on paper. Right now it’s a prototype on a plastic model. Its not entirely there but it works.

kai-kloepfer-smart-tech-13Some of the $50,000 has already been used to purchase a 3D printer to create new parts for his prototype. Kloepfer, who will graduate from Fairview High School this year, plans to use the rest of it toward the integration of a fingerprint scanner. Ultimately, he hopes his and other designs like it will make a dent in the problem of gun violence and help to reduce the needless deaths caused by it:

Every 30 minutes in the U.S. a kid dies from a gun. I want my gun to help reduce accidental deaths and injuries, and to prevent tragedies.

His intentions are certainly well-placed. According to the Center for Injury and Research Policy, 1500 kids die from a gun and many more are seriously injured every year. And according to the Smart Tech Challenges Foundations own website, 2 million children live in a home with a firearm that is both loaded and unlocked. So beyond gun violence, gun safety advocates are sure to see the value in developing the technology.

smartgun_lockKloepfer also spoke about his biometric smart gun tech this past week at the TEDx Mile High: CONVERGENCE in Denver, Colorado. Stay tuned, for I plan to post the video of his talk as soon it becomes available! And in the meantime, be sure to check out the Smart Tech Challenge Foundation’s website for more information on the winners of the challenge.

Source: techcrunch.com, sfexaminer.com, smarttechfoundation

The Future of Housing: Casa Futebol Concept

casa_futebol_brazilIt’s no secret that Brazil’s decision to host the 2014 World Cup was the source of controversy. With roughly $4 billion spent on renovating and constructing the stadiums needed to host the international event, many wondered why that money could not have been spent addressing other infrastructure concerns – such as providing housing and utilities for its many impoverished citizens.

However, drawing inspiration from the social issues plaguing much of the publicity around the event, a pair of French architects have developed a proposal to re-invent the structures as complexes for low-cost housing. While most of the stadiums constructed for the World Cup will continue to host football matches, Brazil’s local teams stand to draw a fraction of the crowds that attended the event, doing little to assuage concerns of wasted resources.

casa_futebol_brazil-1Other buildings, such as the Arena da Amazonia, face a less certain future. Located in the jungle city of Manaus, the 44,500 seat stadium is perhaps the most contentious of Brazil’s World Cup creations. A local judge proposed converting it into a center for temporary detainees to tackle the city’s overflowing prisons, though this was met with fervent opposition from government officials.

The proposal by Axel de Stampa and Sylvain Macaux is perhaps the most ambitious. Dubbed Casa Futebol, it involves transforming each of the 12 World Cup Stadiums into affordable housing for Brazil’s poor and displaced. As Stampa explained in an interview with Gizmag:

The project covers 12 Brazilian stadiums. There are actually six stadiums where we can colonize the exterior facade. Five of these have an exterior structure composed of concrete and metal columns separated by seven or eight meters (23 to 26 ft). We just have to insert pre-fabricated housing using the existing structures.

casa_futebol_brazil-2The remaining stadiums would see housing modules that are 105 m2 (1,130 ft2) fitted to the interior at the expense of rows of seating, the only difference between these and those receiving exterior additions being the installation process. Conscious of Brazil’s adoration for the world game, the proposal would see the stadiums altered slightly, but continue to host matches with profits going towards ongoing maintenance and construction of the housing.

The project is based on modular pre-fabricated houses. So the only thing that changes is the implantation of the houses… We think that the concept is achievable in all 12 stadiums. You just have to take up some seating and reduce their capacity a little bit.

The team guesses that if converted, the stadiums could each house between 1,500 and 2,000 people per building, and a total of approximately 20,000 across the entire project. This bold proposal for Brazil’s stadiums forms part of a year-long architecture project called 1 week 1 project, where the pair endeavor to produce spontaneous architecture projects every week for one year.

casa_futebol_brazil-4While they don’t have current plans to take the Casa Futebol beyond the concept stage, it is hoped that the project can inspire more socially-conscious approaches to problems of this kind. Combined with 3-D printed housing and other prefab housing projects, this kind of re-purposing of existing infrastructure is a way of addressing the problem of slums, something which goes far beyond the developing world.

Source: gizmag.com

 

Cyberwars: ACLU and NSA ex-Director to Debate Tomorrow!

keith-alexander-nsa-flickrIn what is sure to be a barn-burner of a debate, the former head of the National Security Agency – General Keith Alexander – will be participating tomorrow in a with ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. The televised, surveillance-themed debate, will take place tomorrow –  June 30th, 10:30am Eastern Time – on MSNBC. The subject: whether or not the NSA’s vast surveillance and data mining programs are making American’s safer.

While many would prefer that the current head of the NSA be involved in the debate, General Alexander is a far better spokesperson for the controversial programs that have been the subject of so much controversy. After all, “Emperor Alexander” – as his subordinates called him – is the man most directly responsible for the current disposition of the  NSA’s cyber surveillance and warfare program.Who better to debate their merit with the head of the ACLU – an organization dedicated to the preservation of personal freedom?

Edward-Snowden-660x367And according to classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, General Alexander’s influence and power within the halls of government knew no bounds during his tenure. A four-star Army general with active units under his command, he was also the head of the National Security Agency, chief of the Central Security Service, and the commander of the US Cyber Command. It is this last position and the power it wields that has raised the greatest consternation amongst civil-libertarians and privacy advocates.

Keith Alexander is responsible for building this place up between 2005 and 2013, insisting that the US’s inherent vulnerability to digital attacks required that he and those like him assume more authority over the data zipping around the globe. According to Alexander, this threat is so paramount that it only makes sense that all power to control the flow of information should be concentrated in as few hands as possible, namely his.

NSA_fort_meadeIn a recent security conference held in Canada before the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Alexander expressed the threat in the following, cryptic way:

What we see is an increasing level of activity on the networks. I am concerned that this is going to break a threshold where the private sector can no longer handle it and the government is going to have to step in.

If this alone were not reason enough to put people on edge, there are also voices within the NSA who view Alexander as a quintessential larger-than-life personality. One former senior CIA official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, claimed:

We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander—with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets. We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else.

And it is because of such freedom to monitor people’s daily activities that movements like the February 11th “The Day We Fight Back” movement – an international cause that embraced 360 organizations in 70 countries that were dedicated to ending mass surveillance – have been mounted, demanding reform.

us_supremecourtIn addition, a series of recent ruling from the US Supreme Court have begun to put the kibosh on the surveillance programs that Alexander spent eight years building up. With everything from cell phone tracking to cell phone taps, a precedent is being set that is likely to outlaw all of the NSA domestic surveillance. But no matter what, the role of Snowden’s testimony in securing this landmark event cannot be underestimated.

In fact, in a recent interview, the ACLU’s Anthony Romero acknowledged a great debt to Snowden and claimed that the debate would not be happening without him. As he put it:

I think Edward Snowden has done this country a service… regardless of whether or not what he did was legal or illegal, whether or not we think the sedition laws or the espionage laws that are being used to possibly prosecute Snowden are too broad, the fact is that he has kick-started a debate that we did not have. This debate was anemic. Everyone was asleep at the switch.

One can only imagine what outcome this debate will have. But we can rest assured that some of the more predictable talking points will include the necessities emerging out of the War on Terror, the rise of the information revolution, and the dangers of Big Brother Government, as well as the NSA’s failure to prevent such attacks as the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Benghazi Embassy bombing, and a slew of other terrorist incidents that took place during Alexander’s tenure.

Do I sound biased? Well perhaps that’s because I am. Go ACLU, stick to Emperor Alexander!

Sources: engadget.com, democracynow.org

Reinstating Net Neutrality: New Bill Before US Congress

cap-hillA new “net neutrality” bill is on its way towards Congress, one which seeks to reinstate the free and open nature of the net – something that has been under fire in recent years. And one week ago, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Doris Matsui of California took another decisive step when they announced that they will propose a bill to stop the Federal Communications Commission from allowing paid “fast lanes” on the internet.

In short, the proposed bill demands that the FCC to use whatever authority it sees fit to make sure that Internet providers don’t speed up certain types of content (like Netflix videos) at the expense of others (like e-mail). It wouldn’t give the commission new powers, but the bill – known as the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act – would give the FCC crucial political cover to prohibit what consumer advocates say would harm startup companies and Internet services by requiring them to pay extra fees to ISPs.

Wireless-Internet-1And this past spring, after a federal court struck down the FCC’s existing net neutrality rules – which sought to ensure that ISPs didn’t discriminate against certain internet traffic – the commission proposed a new set of rules that has left many worried that ISPs could start charging web companies like Google and Netflix to deliver their content at faster speeds. Such an arrangement, these sources say, would squeeze out newer and smaller operations that can’t pay the fees.

Leahy and Matsui, both Democrats, are part of a widespread effort to ensure that all web companies, from Google to Netflix to Snapchat, are treated equally on the internet. On the other side, big-name internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon are fighting to maintain control over how their networks operate. Caught in the middle are internet users who stand to lose if the ISPs create a new internet where its harder for certain services to reach them.

https://i2.wp.com/img.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/files/2014/06/Screen-Shot-2014-06-16-at-18.12.56.jpgAfter holding a hearing on net neutrality in Vermont this past summer, Leahy came to an invariable conclusion:

Americans are speaking loud and clear. They want an Internet that is a platform for free expression and innovation, where the best ideas and services can reach consumers based on merit rather than based on a financial relationship with a broadband provider.

Though FCC chairman Ted Wheeler has claimed that internet fast lanes would be “commercially unreasonable” and therefore forbidden under its own proposed new rules, critics worry that the rules are too broad and would allow for loopholes as to what counts as commercially reasonable activity. Since the new rules were proposed, protests have taken place in front of the FCC’s offices, massive internet petitions have been mounted, and an epic rant was made by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver.

https://i1.wp.com/www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2014/01/topic_net-neutrality.pngThe new bill would provide a mandate regarding how the FCC deals with any sort of paid prioritization, but it wouldn’t reclassify providers. Also, the new bill would only apply to connections from internet service providers to customers’ homes, commonly referred to as last mile connections. It wouldn’t pertain to “peering”, the deals governing the ways that internet service providers connect with each other or with content providers like Netflix and Google.

Despite these limitations, Public Knowledge supports the proposed legislation. As vice president of government affairs Chris Lewis said in a statement:

This bill sends a clear signal to the FCC that fast lanes and paid prioritization could endanger the internet ecosystem as we know it. The reason we have seen so much financial investment and innovation online is because the playing field for new entrepreneurs is level. As the FCC continues to evaluate new net neutrality rules, it’s important they understand that Americans want an internet that everyone can succeed in, not just the companies with enough money to pay a toll to ISPs.

https://i1.wp.com/www3.pcmag.com/media/images/425188-net-neutrality.pngThe bill may face serious challenges, however. Republicans control the House and have proposed their own bill to block the FCC from reclassifying internet service providers. In this respect, net neutrality is dividing lawmakers along partisan lines, and Republicans are not expected to support the proposed Leahy-Matsui bill. But in theory, a bipartisan agreement could be reached, especially since the Leahy-Matsui bill leaves reclassification off the table.

And given the level of public pressure on law makers and regulators to protect the function of the internet, it’s too early to count this or any other legislation that addressing the issue of neutrality out. Network neutrality has become a hot button issue, much like domestic surveillance and data collection. And the people are sending a clear message: they want the internet to be a level playing field and won’t rest until the rules clearly reflect that.

Sources: wired.com, washingtonpost.com