Tuesday, 24 July 2012

3D printing redux

A long time back I wrote a piece on 3D printing and it's potential to impact upon conflict, using the particular case of narco gangs in South America. The essential question being, what happens when criminal organisations control the means for supply for weapons and/or ammunition?

The trend towards distributed production, and the transfer of proprietary technology from the state toward civilians has taken another step along this path with the emergence of 3D printed generic keys to two of the main types of handcuffs:

In a workshop Friday at the Hackers On Planet Earth conference in New York, a German hacker and security consultant who goes by the name “Ray” demonstrated a looming problem for handcuff makers hoping to restrict the distribution of the keys that open their cuffs: With plastic copies he cheaply produced with a laser-cutter and a 3D printer, he was able to open handcuffs built by the German firm Bonowi and the English manufacturer Chubb, both of which attempt to control the distribution of their keys to keep them exclusively in the hands of authorized buyers such as law enforcement.

The demonstration highlights a unique problem for handcuff makers, who design their cuffs to be opened by standard keys possessed by every police officer in a department, so that a suspect can be locked up by one officer and released by another, says Ray. Unlike other locks with unique keys, any copy of a standard key will open a certain manufacturer’s cuff. “Police need to know that every new handcuff they buy has a key that can be reproduced,” he says. “Until every handcuff has a different key, they can be copied.”
What this means, in essence, is that we're on the cusp of a minor but significant disruptive event. Criminals, particularly those who make their living by committing crime, have the opportunity to equip themselves with multiple keys (secreted around their person in the same way knives can be now) for common cuffs, and have a good chance of making an escape.

This is only the beginning of the coming 3D printing revolution, but a good example of what is to come. Of course police can move over to zip ties, or some other form of binding, but the ubiquity of hand cuffs is not accidental, metal bracelets will always be preferable to plastic.

This is part of a growing trend, with technology challenging the effectiveness of law enforcement. Whether it's distributed communication in the London riots last year, printed AR15s or simply implanting doubt about the effectiveness of handcuffs.

Innovation is the art of removing problems then getting out of the way. Law enforcement is run as a public service organisation, with vast amounts of rules and regulations, along with a command structure which is not steeped in emerging technology. Criminals on the other hand tend toward distributed networks, which can innovate on multiple levels at great speed, and then proliferate that learning both horizontally and vertically.

A dangerous trend for the stability of the state.
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