Committing and solving crimes with 3D printing

(Police in Tokyo use 3D printed models to track down fugitives)

Everybody knows about the 3D printed gun. While it may (or may not) be a crime to print the gun, no crimes have yet been committed with the use of a printed gun. So far. That we know of. It’s inevitable though. That will not be the extent of 3D printing’s impact on crime, however.

Steven Kotler in Forbes effectively explores how 3D printing will penetrate illicit trade of not only guns, but also drugs and exotic animals. Printed drugs will be a reality likely within a decade, and the trade of drug templates that contain the chemical compositions of narcotics, hallucinogens, and stimulants will be passed between those with access to chemical printers. Of course, automating the process of drug creation will lead to more effective pharmaceuticals as well as more euphoric designer drugs. Kotler goes on to connect the dots between the development of DNA laser printers and the underground market of endangered species. Think Jurassic Park. Obviously the printing of arms will quickly advance beyond single-shot pistols; it won’t be long before we have printed grenade launchers. Kotler refers to this as the “democratization of vice.”

In Australia scammers are using 3D printing to rip off ATM users. A gang has taken to printing “skimmers,” which are false card readers that are placed over the real card readers of ATM machines. When people insert their cards, scammers retrieve their card information and key codes that can be used to pull cash out of the victims accounts. 3D printing offers highly-customizable shapes, which is ideal for creating convincing skimmers. They can also be printed on demand for covering more ATMs and replacing the ones that have been removed.

It’s not all bad though. 3D printing is also be utilized to thwart the malicious efforts of evildoers. Forensic engineer and owner of AI2-3D, Eugene Liscio, does well explaining the benefits of employing 3D printers in criminal investigations and court trials. From printing 3D scans of footprints to recreating crime scenes to producing enlarged 3D fingerprints to visualizing projectile trajectories and extrapolating facial appearance from skull structures, 3D printing will surely become a standard forensic tool.

It’s difficult to say which direction the tide of crime will tip as 3D printing becomes more mainstream. We didn’t even discuss copyright and intellectual property law. It’s possible that there will be more 3D pirates than criminals armed with printed guns. Only time will tell. As a neutral party, 3D printers have no say in how they’re used to harm or help others. It’s up to us to direct the technology toward the bettering of human life.

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