Aug 25, 2016 | By Alec
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
Of all the initiatives and developments in the 3D printing world, none have caused as much headaches as 3D printed guns. And regardless of where you stand on the issue of gun rights in America, it’s no secret that completely untraceable plastic guns are bringing security issues to the table. Especially law makers in the US have been scratching their heads about what to do with them. Among others, the US State Department has been trying to limit the spread of 3D printable gun designs, while a new law passed in California last month requires 3D printed guns to be registered.
But the issue of 3D printed guns transcends second amendment debates, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. During a speech on the global proliferation of weapons, he listed 3D printing alongside a number of technologies that can be used by terrorists and that facilitate the production of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and other biological and technological threats.
Mr. Ban was speaking during a UN Security Council debate on ‘The non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction’, and reminded those present that eliminating weapons of mass destruction was one of the founding principles of the United Nations. “I call on all States to focus on one overriding truth: the only sure way to prevent the human, environmental and existential destruction these weapons can cause, is by eradicating [these weapons] once and for all,” Mr. Ban said. “We – the international community – must ensure the disarmament and non-proliferation framework is universally and completely implemented, and is resilient and versatile enough to grapple with the changing environment.”
UN Photo/JC McIlwaine
During the speech, he also called for more multilateral treaties that, like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, are “robust and tested.” Nonetheless, the challenges to non-proliferation and disarmament architecture are growing, the Secretary-General pointed out. “Vicious non-State actors that target civilians for carnage are actively seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons,” he argued. In particular, the recent outbreaks of Ebola, MERS and Yellow Fever revealed that the world is not adequately prepared to prevent or respond to biological attacks.
However, the Secretary-General also discussed the global threats that emerge from the misuse of science and technology. The digital world, he argued, is unavoidably accompanied by new challenges to human safety, and the international community must respond to them. “Information and communication technologies, artificial intelligence, 3D printing and synthetic biology have the potential for massive destruction,” he said. “The nexus between these emerging technologies and WMDs needs close examination and action.”
What’s more, Mr. Ban is not alone in seeing digital innovations such as 3D printing as potential terrorist threats. Gregory Koblentz, the director of the Biodefence Graduate Program at the George Mason University in Virginia, also warned for the dangers of cyber terrorism. “We should not be just one click of the mouse away from a cyber Chernobyl,” he said, adding that computer viruses can easily attack chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear facilities. In 2014, a seized ISIS laptop was found to contain a manual on biological weapon development, while the Nuclear Threat Initiative previously found that 20 nations with weapon-grade nuclear material or nuclear power plants did not meet basic cyber security requirements.
Gregory Koblentz, Associate Professor and Director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at George Mason University, addresses the Security Council open debate. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine
3D printing can certainly also play a role in digital terrorism, Koblentz added. 3D printed drones offer low-cost opportunities to attack or explore nuclear facilities or chemical storage sites, and can theoretically also deliver WMDs to targets. It’s no secret that ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah are already looking into drone technology. But 3D printed plastic guns, that can evade security scanners, can also be used for small-scale terrorist attacks. While such guns are known to be dangerous to the wielder as well, that is not a big concern in suicide attacks. But more generally, 3D printers can be used to manufacture items that are otherwise unobtainable for people on terrorist watch lists.
So what can be done to counter the threats posed by 3D printing? While neither Ban Ki-moon or Koblentz are calling for laws against 3D printed guns, it is imperative to properly prepare defense frameworks. “Disarmament and non-proliferation instruments are only as successful as Member States’ capacity to implement them,” the Secretary-General noted while encouraging council members to devise counter measures that support their disarmament and non-proliferation commitments.
Koblentz, meanwhile, argued that specialists need to extensively study possible threats posed by 3D printing and other digital technologies, and prepare against them. “It would be far preferable to predict how these emerging technologies could be misused and take steps to minimize that risk,” Koblentz said. The digital revolution clearly brings its own threats with it.
Posted in 3D Printing Technology
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