National security trumps free speech.
That's the message from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision yesterday to deny the appeal of a company claiming its First Amendment rights were violated when the State Department demanded they take down 3d printable files for a firearm.
"Ordinarily, of course, the protection of constitutional rights would be the highest public interest at issue in a case. That is not necessarily true here, however, because the State Department has asserted a very strong public interest in national defense and national security," the ruling reads. "Indeed, the State Department’s stated interest in preventing foreign nationals—including all manner of enemies of this country—from obtaining technical data on how to produce weapons and weapon parts is not merely tangentially related to national defense and national security; it lies squarely within that interest."
Texas based Defense Distributed and its founder Cody Wilson have been waging a legal battle to defend what they believe is their constitutional right to publish information on the internet. In this case, the information can be sent to a 3d printer and turned into a firearm.
Multiple federal agencies - including the Justice Department and State Department - have argued that the Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits the sale of weapons to foreign entities without government approval, bars Wilson and Defense Distributed from posting the 3d printable files which can be downloaded on any continent.
"Just because information can be used for some bad purpose doesn’t make it illegal to publish it,” an export control lawyer representing Defense Distributed told Wired last year. “This isn’t just a firearms case, even though it deals with firearms. It’s really a free speech case.”
There are further legal steps that Defense Distributed can take to argue their case, but for now, it seems they've been dealt a setback.