While 3D printers create amazing products for the good of humanity–assisting in surgeries via modeling, tissue reconstruction via bioprinting, and manufacture of prosthetic limbs, to name just a few ways–the weapons capabilities of the disruptive production technique present a growing dark side. We’ve seen 3D printed guns increase their presence on the media’s radar, and while these tend to be created by hobbyists and guns rights activists, there are those who would create other weapons for more horrific purposes.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve had to consider how terrorists might employ 3D printing technology for their ends. Implications for the creation of powerful, functional weapons by those who wish ill on others are far-reaching, and in the UK, the intelligence community is taking into account what the rising level of the terror threat in the country might mean when aided by this advanced technology.
Mark Rowley, Metropolitan Police Head of Special Operations and Assistant Commissioner, has taken serious note of the level of terrorist threat in his country, noting that the current threat is “fundamentally” different from what has been seen in the past. He has now warned that terrorists might utilize 3D printing technology to create airborne drones or to build bombs.
“We are wrestling with the new technologies constantly,” Mr Rowley said in London at the Counter Terror Expo today, April 21. “We’re wrestling with the issue of drones, we’re wrestling with the issue of 3D printing and we’re wrestling with the issue of new communication technologies and methodologies, new applications and the challenges that presents to us from an intelligence perspective.”
The UK’s Metropolitan Police have been aware for several years now of the potential for destruction posed by 3D printers in the wrong hands. In 2013, for example, they reported an attempt at weapons manufacture and seized 3D printed parts that might have been used to make guns. Gun ownership in the UK is tightly regulated, thus making the home creation of a firearm illegal.
Drones, however, represent another high-tech threat on the radar. 3D printed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are a popular and well-documented DIY project that many hobbyists are familiar with. Outside of these hobbyists, the word “drone” for most people can summon images of terrorist activity and warfare, where these airborne machines are often employed. Rowley has voiced his concerns regarding their potential use for close-to-home threats, particularly as they are easy to create. Combined with explosives, results could be lethal–and extremely difficult to detect ahead of time.
Highly publicized cases of UK citizens who have teamed up with ISIS (ISIL), Jihadi John and Jihadi Jane, have increased the visibility of the threat of homegrown terrorists who may be swayed by jihadist and other extremist, violent groups.
“If we have terrorist groups now able, from relatively safe environments in ungoverned space of broken areas of the country, able to reach from there into communities in the UK and influence people to act in their name to commit terrorist acts, that is a fundamental difference in the challenge the UK is facing,” Rowley cautioned at the Counter Terror Expo.
Speaking on the face of terrorism the world over, Rowley noted that “the nature of terrorism has changed so much, so quickly.”
Do you agree with Rowley? Let us know your thoughts on the controversy surrounding potential uses of disruptive technology in the UK Counter Terror forum thread at 3DPB.com.Telegraph]