The 3D Gun Printing Example – Big Data Should Start Thinking about Export Control Law

It appears that thumbing his nose at the idea of gun control was what Cody Wilson had in mind when he arranged to publish the plans for using a 3D printer to manufacture his plastic gun.  It also appears that he didn’t consider the possibility that he had an export problem. He did.

The Department of State informed him that publishing the plans was a violation of International Traffic in Arms Regulations.  Details are in this letter:

That’s what sometimes happens when a very specific agenda narrows one’s vision to the point excluding anything else.  A writer at Forbes makes the point that this can occur notwithstanding previous experience, and specifically with respect to this 3D printing story and export control regulation.

Writing in Forbes, Tim Worstall observes:

I have to admit that I’m rather kicking myself over this: for I should have thought of this as a possible problem before the State Department did anything about it. The reason being that I’ve had several of these sorts of licenses myself as part and parcel of my day job of being an international wholesaler in weird and obscure metals. And I know just how restrictive, indeed oppressive at times, the terms of them can be.

Now before go further, let me try to inoculate myself from charges of smugness.  I have the same issues on occasion, and in yesterday’s post I specifically noted my need to remember to think before acting.  So there.  I’m not perfect and I’m not suggesting otherwise.

Back to our story.

It is obvious that, as technology and data itself develop, new capabilities will be created.  Some of them will create export control issues.  (By the way, export control is not just a what issue.  There are also who, where and how issues.)

With respect to export control regulation, Big Data businesses are going to have to consider both the intended uses of their technology and data and the other possible uses of their technology and data.  Export control regulations refer to dual use technology for this very reason.

This raises a process problem that applies to export control issues and legal issues generally.

When we discussed the SEC decision to allow the use of social media to make disclosure of material information, we noted that the SEC didn’t appear to think about the inherent privacy issues.  You could think of this as a silo problem.  People focused on securities law issues look at social media differently than people focused on privacy issues.

However you characterize the problem, Big Data businesses have it.

My suggestion is this – find someone with the breadth of experience that will give you a chance to get the issues spotted, and the ability to find issue-specific skills as needed.

Things move fast.  Even if it was affordable, you’re not going to run every decision past everyone in your Rolodex.  (Remember them?)  You need someone to manage the process effectively – as a matter of both time and cost.

And yes, in the relevant context that is shameless self-promotion.

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