Rusty Weiss called to our attention Monday morning an update to “arms trafficking” regulations posted to the Federal Register last week by the State Department. The National Rifle Association has sounded the alarm, having recognized quickly how these new regs would effectively shut down the exchange of information among gun enthusiasts on the web.
But the chokehold effect would be felt in other quarters as well. This move by the State Department is an absolutely terrible idea across the board. Even if it dealt with international trade in pork bellies or chicken parts, rather than arms, it should still be opposed strenuously on principle.
Its effect will be to make a tremendous chunk of what people talk about on the web every day subject to prior restraint, by, of all agencies, the State Department – or, potentially, other federal agencies, depending on topic.
If these regulations are actually implemented, for example, they would have an impact on online help forums for computer applications – because some of those applications can be put to military use. They would have an impact on forums in which users discuss computer simulation technology, online encryption, and the operation of commercially sold drones. The online topics to which the new regulations could be considered applicable are almost endless. (See the second section, below, for links and information on why this is.)
It’s not just gun forums, although that’s certainly enough to get people galvanized.