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Can Open Source Give Comfort To the Enemy? 532

Posted by kdawson
from the homeland-security-card dept.
zlite writes "We make open source Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones), mostly for geomapping and other amateur uses. One of our problems is that most people think of UAVs as Scary Things, and despite our efforts to prove otherwise there's always the risk of regulatory crackdowns. We have amateur UAV participants from around the world, but now they've been joined by an Iranian in Tehran, who has made a UAV in the colors of the Iranian flag. My instinct is that we should welcome everyone, everywhere, but I'm sure some in Washington worry that this looks like helping an 'Axis of Evil' country make advanced weapons. They could shut us down with the stroke of a pen. My question: is there ever a case for letting national security issues dictate the limits of an open source project?"
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Can Open Source Give Comfort To the Enemy?

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  • Flag?! (Score:4, Funny)

    by scott_karana (841914) on Friday August 24, 2007 @11:37PM (#20350885)
    OH GOD THE IRANIAN FLAG!
    As if Americans don't festoon their flag everywere.
    Patiotic? "Nationalistic"? God.
  • by QCompson (675963) on Friday August 24, 2007 @11:37PM (#20350887)

    My question: is there ever a case for letting national security issues dictate the limits of an open source project?

    If you want to do the government's work for them, sure.

    If you are shutting down a project based solely on the fear that your government may shut you down in the future (and not for a valid reason), you are only saving them the trouble, and making it that much worse for the next controversial open-source project that comes along.
    • by rahvin112 (446269) on Saturday August 25, 2007 @12:36AM (#20351245)
      Actions of supplying Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea and the other countries on the weapon export list with the technology or know how to build weapons can result in jail time. Being cavalier and saying he shouldn't worry about it till they shut him down is encouraging him to gamble with his freedom.

      This isn't the situation where they send you a DCMA notice and turn your website off. This is where they show up with a warrant, search your house and incarcerate you with a million dollar bail because they are charging you with violation of the arms export laws of this country. This isn't the kind of thing you fool around with, if you think there is a possibility that the UAV project you are working on is being copied by a foreign military or anyone within a country on the export list you could be in serious trouble for continuing. Regardless of how you feel about the politics, if you don't want to go to jail, you implement controls on the information you are providing (to prevent access by countries on the weapons export list) or you get someone outside the US to head the project and control the website. That is, if you care about spending the next 25 years in federal prison.
      • by 1u3hr (530656) on Saturday August 25, 2007 @01:14AM (#20351431)
        implement controls on the information you are providing (to prevent access by countries on the weapons export list)

        Ah yes, all those "If you are a terrorist, please do not download this file" warnings we see on stites with encryption software and such. I'm sure that is extremely effective. And terrroists don't know how to use proxy servers to hide their IP location either.

      • by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Saturday August 25, 2007 @02:12AM (#20351659) Homepage

        Being cavalier and saying he shouldn't worry about it till they shut him down is encouraging him to gamble with his freedom.

        Gamble his freedom? If he can't talk to whoever he wants on the internet without fear of government agents kicking in his door while he sleeps, his freedom is already gone.

    • I would make a counterargument here.

      If it is an open and public community and is not overtly seeking the development of weapons (just multi-use components), I would say that there is not. At worst, the government should see this as a possibility for intelligence for any real terrorist link.

      I suppose that if this was an "open source uranium enrichment centrifuge and bomb design project" there would be a case. But even there, I tend to think that the enemy we do no know is more dangerous than the enemy we d
  • Open to all (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CalSolt (999365) on Friday August 24, 2007 @11:39PM (#20350899)
    Just like scientific advancements and knowledge in general are available to anyone, anywhere, so should be open source software. It's a principles thing.

    In any case, something tells me no open source UAV software will ever be capable of running a weapons platform without significant contributions. If a country can build a UAV capable of military grade recon or even able to field weapons, they won't have any problem writing the software.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by modecx (130548)
      I echo that, but I would like to add that if some military outfit is modifying GPL code to make open source UAVs deliver death from above, I sure hope they redistribute the changes because I want some of that shit.
  • Attempt to turn him into a double agent for the US. Keep notes of all your attempts. You'll either be rewarded for your patriotism, locked up, or "disappear".
  • Tradecraft? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Friday August 24, 2007 @11:42PM (#20350925) Homepage

    One would think someone infiltrating a group to aid a hostile government would be able to cover their tracks a little better. Maybe use a cutout in Germany, South America or Canada. It would be pretty foolish for the Iranian Air Force to use an IP that traces back to Tehran. Just because they talk with an accent doesn't mean they think with one.

    Besides, if the Iranians want advanced UAV's, the Russians will sell them whatever is in their inventory. The Chinese, who probably make a lot of the circuit boards and sub systems for our military, would happily sell them their 100% original design...that just happens to look amazingly like ours. Heeeey.

    If they struck out there then they're down to the French, Taiwanese, North Koreans and a half-dozen other countries happy to sell them weapons systems under the table.

    Of course, this is the Bush administration we're talking about here. Logic and common sense hold no sway in American government and people get appointed to high office because they're skilled fund raisers. So, yeah, I could see them shaking down you guys just because it makes them feel like they're doing something and they can understand you when you talk...if you limit yourself to simple words. Plus you're convenient driving distance from their offices.

    • The Chinese, who probably make a lot of the circuit boards and sub systems for our military, would happily sell them their 100% original design...that just happens to look amazingly like ours. Heeeey.

      I'll have to ask around, but I don't think this is true. Just because consumer electronics is generally made in China doesn't mean that the avionics are. A lot of avionics are designed in the US, using domestic manufacturing. Because of national security concerns, I don't think that much military-specific wo
  • It seems to me that the Iranians have this type of basic technology - keep in mind, keeping something in the air is no big challenge, nor is waypoint navigation. Also - picking up any field robotics journal will have papers on this sort of autonomous stuff - should be ban those too?
  • Is it that simple? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Arathon (1002016) on Friday August 24, 2007 @11:43PM (#20350929) Journal
    I hate to complicate matters, but...I'm not sure it's so cut-and-dried. The Nazi example above may seem a little silly to some, but it's not totally off-the-wall. It seems to me that the question that needs to be asked is "Who says it's a national security issue?" If it seems like a knee-jerk "He's a Muslim!"-type thing, then we're not really talking national security. But if we're dealing with someone who has a reasonable likelihood of wanting to harm the U.S., and the project itself actually lends itself to that, then...yeah, I suppose you'd need to seriously consider not allowing the guy to participate.

    In other words: believe it or not, there are somethings that are more important than "freedom"...as far as SOFTWARE goes. =P
  • by FlyByPC (841016) on Friday August 24, 2007 @11:44PM (#20350935) Homepage
    Yes, making a UAV is not trivial, but neither is it incredibly difficult. There are plenty of cheap parts out there that, with a little programming, could tie together a small GPS module and aircraft control servos. It wouldn't be too terribly difficult for any country to make a UAV; I would say with a parts budget of $1K US, I could probably get a simple one (that could fly to a given waypoint) working within a few weeks/months. With $10K, you could make a very capable one -- probably with a range of several hundred km -- which could carry a small payload (a few grams of radioactives go a long way, ya know.)

    Bottom line -- trying to restrict such technology is laughable these days. Microchip literally gives away [microchip.com] microcontrollers capable of handling a small aircraft, given the right software and interface electronics. These "evil terr-a-rists" will always be able to get their hands on technology. What we need is to find a way to make it politically difficult for them to continue as terrorists. (I.E. find a diplomatic solution.)
    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      I would say with a parts budget of $1K US, I could probably get a simple one (that could fly to a given waypoint) working within a few weeks/months. With $10K, you could make a very capable one -- probably with a range of several hundred km -- which could carry a small payload (a few grams of radioactives go a long way, ya know.)

      Considering that a classic 'dirty bomb' (conventional explosives dispersing radioactives) only does surface contamination, they're relatively easy to clean up. http://blog.wired. [wired.com]

  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Friday August 24, 2007 @11:46PM (#20350945) Journal
    If you have an "enemy" that doesn't play by your rules, and out breeds you, you will lose in the long run. Eventually they will simply out number you, and maybe even just "vote you out", without a shot fired.

    Then you will laugh when the next Ice Age comes.

    And cry when the next asteroid hits...

    The only "hope", if there is a point, is to get geographically diversified. And by geographically, I mean light-years.

  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Friday August 24, 2007 @11:46PM (#20350951) Homepage Journal
    ``My instinct is that we should welcome everyone, everywhere, but I'm sure some in Washington worry that this looks like helping an 'Axis of Evil' country make advanced weapons.''

    Is anyone still taking these guys seriously? I mean, the "Axis of Evil" was coined at the time when the whole cast was performing a play where they convinced the USAmerican public that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and posed a great threat to the USA. Now that has been exposed for the load of bollocks many of us already saw it for at the time. The whole "Axis of Evil" concept was invented to scare the American public into thinking there was a conspiracy against them, but, in all the time since then, none of the countries on this supposed axis have actually attacked the USA. The only aggressor in this whole stage play has been the USA itself, with the demagogues leading the violence somehow escaping scrutiny. Sure, Iraqis are killing US soldiers _now_, but, well, can you blame them, after said soldiers plunged their country into an anarchy where it's news if there is a day _without_ bombings? And the same guys who came up with the "Axis of Evil" told you that the US soldiers would be received as heroes and bring peace and stability to Iraq.

    And now you are saying that X is a good idea, but we'd better not do it because the "Axis of Evil" guys may not like it? I'm not saying the idea is good and you should do it, but _not_ doing it because of those demagogues seems about as bad an idea as they get. They've done enough damage already!
  • Yes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday August 24, 2007 @11:48PM (#20350961) Journal

    My question: is there ever a case for letting national security issues dictate the limits of an open source project?"
    Yes.
    Imagine if someone decided to design an open source cruise missile.

    The U.S.A. already leaned on the New Zealand gov't to shut down a guy making a (non-open source) DIY cruise missile just to prove that he could do it. The NZ version of the IRS hound him into bankruptcy.

    Not to mention that his gov't even said it'd be perfectly fine if he sold the technology to Iran. BTW - He didn't.
    • by poptones (653660)
      See, this is the difference you're overlooking... it's in your own words.

      This guy working on a non open platform was shut down...

      Of course he was. It was a single point of failure in the chain. He didnt share his work with others, so he became an easy target. Had he opened that platform right off the mark then there would have been no point in the IRS targeting him. He likely would have saved himself considerable financial loss by not being so secretive.

      How is the US gov't going to "shut down" open discussi
      • How is the US gov't going to "shut down" open discussion

        The same way they do it to people building rockets. They use ITAR, and throw you in jail if you don't comply.

        We really need to reduce the ITAR regulations - call your congressman!
    • Imagine if someone decided to design an open source cruise missile. ... DIY cruise missile

      That guy was developing something that some strategic intel people have been expecting for years [darpa.mil] - a simple V1-like UAV, but with modern guidance.

      The V1 of WWII was a very simple device, built cheaply out of sheet metal with a crude engine. Range of several hundred miles. Moderately reliable airframe. But the guidance systems of that era had trouble finding London, and hitting a specific military target was ho

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)
        I'd imagine part of the reason no one has bothered is that the RAF found V1s rather easy to shoot down with 1940s technology. They were slow, RADAR or spotters picked them up a long way out, and the thin airframe made them easy to destroy. A modern variant with some evasive ability would be slightly harder, but they aren't really manoeuvrable enough to dodge much. You could build something that could shoot down a modern V1 for a lot less than the upgraded V1 itself, which defeats the point of modern guer
  • Open Source can be used by anybody, that's part of the point.
  • My question: is there ever a case for letting national security issues dictate the limits of an open source project?

    "Yesterday morning, I received word from Assistant U.S. Attorney William Keane in San Jose, California, that the government's three-year investigation of Philip Zimmermann is over."

    Article here. [philzimmermann.com] More info here. [faqs.org]

  • by SamP2 (1097897) on Friday August 24, 2007 @11:53PM (#20350995)
    ...made a UAV in the colors of the Iranian flag

    If you are going to fly it in the US, just paint it sideways. The worst problem you'll then encounter is border patrol thinking its those illegal Mexican immigrants crossing by air.
  • Might be a bit offtopic but Wait a minute... there is no war going on between USA and Iran, Since when did Iran become your enemy? Just because your president sais something stupid you see a whole country as "your" enemy?

    Call me crazy, but that is just wrong.

    I'm from Iran myself and I know that most people in Iran do not see USA as the "enemy" at all. People should not judge a country by the small minority which rules it.

    I might be a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by WhiplashII (542766)
      People should not judge a country by the small minority which rules it.

      The problem with that statement is that the rulers of Iran:

      1) Have said that they want nuclear weapons, and are actively pursuing nuclear technology
      2) Have said that they want to wipe Isreal from the map
      3) Seem to be spreading fear through their military and covert actions

      While that does not make me hate Iranians or anything, that may lead to the US being forced to intervene no matter how we judge the rest of them - which would certainly
  • Fly recon against Israel or against American interests in Iraq? Deploy weapons?

    It may give a small advantage to terrorists or insurgents for a few times, but in the long run, air defense will adapt to them if they have any perceivable effect.
  • "My question: is there ever a case for letting national security issues dictate the limits of an open source project?"

    I doubt it. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no way to get it back in. Shutting down a project because the enemy is using will not stop the enemy, just ourselves!

  • by hardburn (141468) <hardburn@wumpus-cav e . n et> on Saturday August 25, 2007 @12:01AM (#20351051)

    My question: is there ever a case for letting national security issues dictate the limits of an open source project?"

    Crypto was kept out of the Linux kernel for a long time, since the US had regulation on exporting crypto systems. These were mostly lifted under Clinton, though there's still a list of countries that it's illegal to export to (Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, according to: http://www.epic.org/crypto/export_controls/regs_1_ 00.html [epic.org]).

    RMS has stated that if copyright laws in the vein of the DMCA continue to be passed, Free Software development could no longer take place in US borders.

    Germany was recently hit with a law that outlawed "hacking software", apparently including nmap or packet sniffers.

    It's nice to say that you want to do things for the good of humanity, but beaurocrats have other ideas.

  • by arthurpaliden (939626) on Saturday August 25, 2007 @12:03AM (#20351065)

    The Iranian Government currently has the technology to produce:

    • anti-ship cruse missiles
    • medium and short range ballistic missiles
    • weapons grade plutonium

    And you think that stopping a not for profit, model aircraft UAV building group is going to limit their ability to produce a military UAV.

    So how many other open source projects may have secret Iranian participants, shall we shut them all down.

    How about shutting down Linux because it can be used by the Iranians to build super computers like they do in the west to test bomb designs.?


    Lets ban all knowledge because the terrorists may get at it.

  • "is there ever a case for letting national security issues dictate the limits of an open source project?"

    Yes, and I could tell you, but then I'd have to hunt you down and kill you, so....no.
  • before you go much farther, i would strongly encourage you to become familiar with itar (international trade in arms) restrictions. there are extremely stiff penalties for any unauthorized export, which includes even discussions of the technical details. (at least that's the way my company's itar representative spins it). as always, your mileage will vary: i am neither a lawyer, d.o.d. or d.o.t. auditor, nor do i play any of those on tv.
  • by codepunk (167897) on Saturday August 25, 2007 @12:11AM (#20351111)
    What, do you think people in the middle east are somehow stupid or not educated and incapable of
    creating a UAV without assistance? Having spent a fair amount of time in the middle east I can tell you that their population in many cases has better access to technology than we do here in the states.

    I think if they have the smarts and capability to build a reactor that a UAV would not be real difficult for them.

    • by rahvin112 (446269)
      The Russians are building the nuclear reactor. The Iranians are enriching the Uranium, using technology and the same skill set the Russians and the US had in 1950.
  • National security BS (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    My question: is there ever a case for letting national security issues dictate the limits of an open source project?

    National security issues can put the kibosh on nearly anything. Just ask the amateur rocketry hobbyists about the hoops they have to jump through due to the PATRIOT Act. In a few more years you'll probably be lucky to be able to find chemistry sets with experiments more interesting than mixing vinegar and baking soda.
    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      National security issues can put the kibosh on nearly anything. Just ask the amateur rocketry hobbyists about the hoops they have to jump through due to the PATRIOT Act. In a few more years you'll probably be lucky to be able to find chemistry sets with experiments more interesting than mixing vinegar and baking soda.

      And when they do start putting out these chemistry sets, so much for the next generation of mad scientists.

  • My question: is there ever a case for letting national security issues dictate the limits of an open source project?
    No, because if you do it means that the Ter-ra-ra-rists have won the war.

    If that's the message you want to give your readers, go right ahead and behave as if you are living in fear under the control of a neo-Fascist regime.

  • The research you are doing, while interesting is not so important that it's national security material. No-one in the government is probably giving your efforts a second thought.

    Think of all the interactions you've ever had with the government, in any form. Now do you feel like being frightened of them as some large omnipresent and omniscient force? I think not!!
  • by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday August 25, 2007 @01:31AM (#20351517) Homepage
    On a hot, tiring day of Jihad, some holy RPG-wielding Islamic terrorist might pick up a tasty Coca-Cola product and indulge in good old-fashioned American refreshment!

    So does that mean that Coca-Cola Co. is lending aid and comfort to the enemy??
  • An UAV (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Z00L00K (682162) on Saturday August 25, 2007 @01:47AM (#20351575) Homepage
    can be bought in just about any hobby shop - and it's often a replica of a well-known aircraft. So all R/C enthusiasts are actually operating UAV:s - just with the tweak that the intelligent part remains on the ground...

    A smarter device isn't that hard to create today - a GPS, gyro and a small one-chip computer will make things easy. Failure rate may be higher than for the military spec UAV:s but what's missing in precision can be made up by larger numbers.

    So all R/C equipment around may also be a security risk.

    I'm sure that this is causing dandruff for some security people. Just accept that the worms are out of the can.

    And anyway - there are better ways to streak terror in people than with UAV:s. - They are too visible, rather slow and can be spotted before they are about to cause any big trouble.

  • by pcaylor (648195) on Saturday August 25, 2007 @05:27AM (#20352417)
    Instead of asking a bunch of Slashdotters what they think the government might say, why not ask the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency themselves. ICE and the Department of State have joint jurisdiction over ITAR. I've never been able to figure out who handles what, but I'd recommend starting with ICE. You can call them at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE. (Yes, this may be the first time in Slashdot history that someone has recommended calling DHS not as a joke.)

    ICE has a program called Project Shield America that is designed for exactly this type of thing. Their goal is to try to educate industry about what can and can't be exported.
    http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/shield071204 .htm [ice.gov]

    Lastly, IANAIA (I am not an ICE agent) but I suspect their answer is probably going to be that exporting UAV technology to Iran is a no-no. I'm sure it depends on exactly what you are doing, but from a quick googling, it looks like a lot of UAV related technology is restricted.

    Why is it that I feel like I'm about to get modded back into the Stone Age?
  • by tm2b (42473) on Saturday August 25, 2007 @01:14PM (#20354599) Journal
    Here's the thing: if you're a pilot, UAVs are scary things.

    We're already trained to look for birds, which are bad enough bad at least have the courtesy to move in a way that attracts the eye naturally. But UAVs are very hard to see and do not talk on the radio to let other aircraft know where they are ("I see you about 2 miles off my wing"). They can't even look around to see what other VFR aircraft (who are not required to carry anything more complex than eyeballs to avoid collisions) they might be nearing and steer clear.

    Outside of controlled airspaces, these things are deathtraps waiting to happen unless very clear rules govern their deployment, just as there are rules for other moving hazards like sykdivers ("sykdivers in the air from x-thousand feet in the area imediately south of mumblefrotz airfield, traffic steer clear"). Too many, and they're be the only things in the sky. Too few, and there won't be enough general awareness of their use in VFR airspaces.

All this wheeling and dealing around, why, it isn't for money, it's for fun. Money's just the way we keep score. -- Henry Tyroon

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