When Tinkering Becomes Illegal

from the too-easy-to-break-the-law dept

USA Today’s Andrew Kantor has written a column that is basically a defense for everyone’s “freedom to tinker.” He goes through a variety of situations where the law is becoming increasingly gray and murky (and sometimes passing over into the ridiculous), and points out why it doesn’t seem right that we shouldn’t be able to modify or tinker with stuff that we’ve legally bought. He points to things like using an open WiFi network or making a backup copy of a DVD (and ditching the forced-watching of the commercials at the beginning in the process) and wonders how that’s different from fixing his air conditioner or changing his oil. However, the point he makes at the end may be the most important. He’s basically worried that people are coming to accept the fact that you don’t own what you’ve bought — and that makes people willing to accept laws that outlaw your freedom to tinker: “But as technology marches on, our laws don’t always march with it. They’re written by men with agendas that are different than ours — men who don’t understand (or have the incentive to understand) what they’re trying to legislate. So chances are there will come a day when there won’t be room for men to meddle with technology. The sad thing is that we’ll think what they do is against the law in the first place.”


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Comments on “When Tinkering Becomes Illegal”

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15 Comments
Pete Austin says:

It's Too Late for the UK

“From 1 st January 2005 most electrical work in houses, some of which is quite routine such as changing a socket in a kitchen, must, by law, be notified to the local authority building control department; this includes DIY as well as tradesmen who undertake electrical work as a part of their normal activities (such as kitchen and bathroom fitters). The only exception is where the work is undertaken by a competent person who is a member of a government authorised scheme. The notification to the local authority is then handled by the organisation running the scheme.”

Hansard

Oliver Wendell Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Illegal Tinkering=Stupid

Actually, it’s perfectly legal to modify a semi-automatic AR-15 (or m16 as you call it) to full auto.

The catch is you have to notify the government of your doing so, fill out a form including a signature of your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer and then pay the government $500 for a tax stamp that authorizes your manufacturing of a Class III weapon.

Failure to do that is what makes the tinkering illegal.

Chris in MI. says:

Re: Re: Re: Illegal Tinkering=Stupid

WOW you couldn’t be more WRONG!
The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) banned the manufacture of any new machine guns for the public. Only military, and LEOs can order new ones from a manufacturer. Also, all Form 1 applications sent to the ATF for an individual to create their own MG will be denied.
The only new MGs being made outside the factory are by Class 02 FFLs and any gun they make is not transferrable to an individual. It is considered a ‘post sample’ MG and can only be transferred to another dealer who has a letter from an LEO agency requesting a demo of that particular MG.
Why do you think an M16 that used to sell for $900 before 1986 is now worth $13,000 ? Its because there is a fixed supply and increasing demand due to the fact that no new MGs can be made.
P.S. Its a $200 tax on each transfer, not $500
P.P.S. There is no such thing as a ‘Class III’ weapon. M16s are considered ‘Title II’ weapons. Dealers that pay their SOT tax are considered Class 3 dealers….

Peter says:

Re: Re: Illegal Tinkering=Stupid

By like token, what if someone buys a car and tinkers with it to create a nuclear bomb??? Is the tinkering illegal, or buying a car illegal?

Or perhaps you’ve made a false dichotomy and failed to realize that “tinkering” refers to the vast gray region of DIY spanning “out of box” and “building from scratch”?

Anonymous of Course says:

Re: Re: Re: Illegal Tinkering=Stupid

“By like token, what if someone buys a car and tinkers with it to create a nuclear bomb??? Is the tinkering illegal, or buying a car illegal?”

At what point does the tinkering become illegal? When machining the various mechanisms while the casting the explosives or when the fissile material is put in place?

Here’s an example of how the laws are driven. If I modify a set-top box to obtain free programming, is it the possession of the box or the theft of program material that should be illegal? One is easy to prove, the other is difficult.
In either case unless you go into business selling modified boxes you’re unlikely to be pinched.

Evan says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Illegal Tinkering=Stupid

I think a reasonably clear line can be drawn here. Buying something legal, then tinkering with it to make it illegal is not a crime. Possesion or use of the illegal thing is, well..illegal. Sooo…. Making a legal car a nuclear bomb = illegal. Drilling “speed holes” in that car not illegal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Illegal Tinkering=Stupid

what if someone buys a car and tinkers with it to create a nuclear bomb???

Than that someone is very clever, and society has FAR more to worry about than a simple nuclear bomb.

I fear someone who can take a car, and after a conversion scene, make a nuclear bomb. Makes McGyver and the A team look like panies.

Fission says:

Re: Re: Illegal Tinkering=Stupid

That’s changing something that is legal into something that is specifically illegal.

If you own it I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to modify it with out making it illegal. Altering what you own should be allowed unless it specifically makes the item you are altering illegal.

Changing the scope on a weapon is legal isn’t it? Do you need the government?s permission to take apart and clean a weapon?

Then why should taking care of, repairing or altering, what you own any different? I don?t need a permit to clean my house. Why should I need permission to take care of my electrical wiring? Instead of repairing my computer myself, will the government soon make me take it to am ?approved? shop every time?

Michael Armstrong (user link) says:

Re: Re: Illegal Tinkering=Stupid

Bear with me here, but this is the kind of thing the NRA and other 2nd ammendment supporters are always going on about. This is the slippery slope.
Yes, if I buy something, it’s mine to do with as I please. Whether that thing is a gun, a DVD player, a car, a CD, what have you. There are already hundreds of laws that prohibit us from doing harm to others. Laws against murder, laws against pollution, laws against theft.
Until such time as I do something with it that causes harm to another (kill someone, take their property, etc.) nobody should have any reason to say boo.
They may not have realized it at the time, but when the NRA fights to retain the right to own a certain type of gun, or to modify it, they’re also indirectly fighting for similar rights when it comes to more mundane products.
We’re used to product x being banned, so it’s no big deal to ban product y as well. We’re OK with prohibiting tinkering with guns, it’ll be no problem to also prohibit modifications to our DVD player, PVR, computer, house as well.
After all, think of the children.

Pussy says:

Re: Re: Illegal Tinkering=Stupid

?What if someone purchases a legal semi-automatic m16 and modifies it to an illegal full-auto? It shouldn’t be illegal to modify the gun; just illegal to have possession it??

It shouldn?t even be illegal to possess the gun, what should be illegal is harming someone or their property with it.

Oh wait – that ALREADY IS ILLEGAL.

Problem solved.

TJ says:

Bigger overall concern

The issue is really larger than this. Should the goverment dictate that you can’t decide what substances to introduce into your body, i.e. “drugs” booga-booga? Bar you from renting your body for a night or a few hours while its perfectly legal to marry for money “prostitution” booga-booga? Prevent a women from deciding whether another life can take control of her body for nine months or not “abortion” booga-booga?

In the USA we do seem to be at a crossroads. What matters more, individual freedom or the ‘greater good’ which too often seems to be what best suits the profit margins of corporations? Again and again the country seems to be going the way of ‘to Hell with your freedom’ and ‘do [whatever] for the children’ and corporate profits. I’m sadly beginning to believe the old adage is correct: Totalitarian countries will move steadily towards freedom, while free countries will move steadily towards Totalitarianism.

Should we all be able to tinker with the things we buy? Hell yes! Will the government tend to allow it now that corporations have far more power than the public? Highly unlikely. Will the public ultimately wake up and correct things before we live in the equivalent of the old USSR? Stay tuned.

SOcRatEs says:

The sale of extended warranties

The sale of extended warranties, tends to be the place of (ownership)punishment. Any tinkering and
the warranty is voided. Remove a simple sticker, warranty is voided. Same market value for less
manufacturer responsablity, small warranty period, extendable by purchase from second party insurance co.
Economic soundness (profit from profit).
The U.K. is not a freedom based country.
Nor is the U.S.
We are (like it or not) Priviledge based societies.
You can not give up a non existing right!
only suffer the removal of priviladges you’re
not willing to pay for…

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