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Are Programmers Responsible For the Actions of Their Clients? 222

Posted by timothy
from the ok-now-let's-talk-tortkey dept.
Bobfrankly1 writes "Robert Stuart and his company Extensions Software are being charged by New York authorities, claiming he is promoting gambling in New York because of the actions of his clients. They are charging him after he rejected a plea agreement that would have him plead guilty to lesser charges, adding backdoors to his software, and using said backdoors to gather details on his clients and their customers." Another article on the case at Salon.
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Are Programmers Responsible For the Actions of Their Clients?

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  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Threni (635302) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @07:23PM (#42468885)

    There's no need to elaborate, is there? The analogies you conjur up in your mind are sufficient to tell you just how stupid an idea this is.

    • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NFN_NLN (633283) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @07:37PM (#42469029)

      I found a similar story on another obscure website:

      "An anonymous reader points out the case of Saeed Malekpour, an Iranian-born permanent resident of Canada who worked as a web developer. In 2008, during a visit to Iran, Malekpour was arrested and detained by Iranian authorities on charges that he designed and moderated "adult content websites." In 2009, he was sentenced to death for "acting against the national security, insulting and desecrating the principles of Islam, and agitating the public mind." Malekpour wrote photo-uploading software, and in a letter he sent from prison, he said it was used by porn sites without his knowledge."

      http://yro.slashdot.org/story/12/01/22/0354253/web-developer-sentenced-to-death-in-iran [slashdot.org]

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SomePgmr (2021234)

      [No.] There's no need to elaborate, is there?

      I want to agree, but according to the linked articles, it sounds like they're making headway on proving that wrong.

    • Re:No. (Score:5, Funny)

      by idobi (820896) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @08:31PM (#42469603) Homepage
      Let's sue Microsoft for Excel for enabling embezzlement
    • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shoten (260439) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @09:26PM (#42470171)

      There's no need to elaborate, is there? The analogies you conjur up in your mind are sufficient to tell you just how stupid an idea this is.

      Actually, yes...if you know in advance that what you're doing is actually facilitating a criminal act. It's called "being an accessory," or even falls under conspiracy, given the level of involvement needed to write software specifically to do certain things. Here's the difference:

      1: Being a gunsmith, making a gun, and putting it up for sale in accordance with all laws. Some guy you don't know buys it and then uses it to commit murder; the first time you learn of his intent to do so is when you find out that he did it. Okay, you aren't accountable.

      2: Being a gunsmith, and being approached by someone to make him a firearm with no serial number that wouldn't be traceable because it'd have no records. He pays you in cash, and tells you he intends to commit murder with it when you give it to him. Yeah, you're responsible in that case.

      Gambling in New York isn't legal. Writing software to be used in New York for gambling is therefore committing a crime. Slashdot just gave this a stupid title, is all..the crux of the question is not whether "programmers are responsible for the actions of their clients," but whether programmers who knowingly and willfully contribute to the commission of a crime can be prosecuted. And they can.

      • by Java Pimp (98454)

        So does that mean Jon Johansen and his accomplices are in fact criminals for writing and distributing DeCSS and we were wrong in supporting and defending the cause all these years?

      • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by russotto (537200) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @10:05PM (#42470569) Journal

        Gambling in New York isn't legal. Writing software to be used in New York for gambling is therefore committing a crime.

        This does not follow. It's not particularly unusual to build something "for export only" -- to use a car analogy, cars which aren't street legal in the US but are street legal in other countries. And if you prefer booze, the Jack Daniels distillery is located in a county where it is unlawful to sell alcohol.

      • by Myopic (18616) *

        Parent comment wins, shut down the thread. The question is would a reasonable person believe that he was facilitating a specific crime. If so, the culprit is guilty. This has always been the legal standard and software doesn't make it different. The burden is on the prosecution to show that a reasonable person would know. When judging the facts the key considerations are "reasonableness" and "specificity".

        • FTFA: "...But Stuart, who has been charged along with his wife and brother-in-law with one felony count for promoting gambling in New York through their software firm, says that his company sells the software only to entities outside the U.S. and that he’s not aware of anyone using it in the U.S. or using it to take illegal bets in the U.S."
  • No (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 03, 2013 @07:30PM (#42468949)

    Are plumbers responsible for the actions of their clients?
    No. This is just as bullshit.

  • Perhaps (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CmdrEdem (2229572) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @07:35PM (#42469009) Homepage

    IMHO it all depends if the programmer knows that the client will use said feature/software for illicit activity. If the programmer doesn't know them he`s not to blame. Otherwise he is a partner and should be prosecuted as so, specially if the feature in question has the only possible purpose of illegal action.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by ArcadeNut (85398)

      So by your logic, anyone who writes FTP clients/servers, or Web Browsers, or ANYTHING that could be used for Illegal activity, then they should be held accountable?

      No thanks.

      If it's only purpose is for illegal activities, then sure, prosecute away...

      (IANAL) I have a feeling that if the guy wasn't selling it to anyone in the US or anyone outside the US that was using it for illegal purposes he probably won't wind up in jail. They've (Not necessarily NY) tried to hold other non-software companies liable for

      • Not the same logic (Score:4, Informative)

        by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @08:35PM (#42469639)

        So by your logic, anyone who writes FTP clients/servers, or Web Browsers, or ANYTHING that could be used for Illegal activity, then they should be held accountable?

        Your strawman doesn't represent GP's logic because GP said that the programmer should be held responsible if he "knows that the client will use said feature/software for illicit activity." That's different than knowing that the software could be used for illegal activity, even for something so widely used that that knowledge also implies knowledge to a statistical certainty that some user, somewhere will eventually end up using for criminal activity.

        And, frankly, it is pretty much the standard that, decades ago, when I worked in retail (at Radio Shack) we were trained to apply: if a customer told us something that made us believe they were going to use the product they were seeking to purchase for criminal activity, we shouldn't sell it to them, otherwise the we (the company and potentially the sales person) could be held culpable.

        There's the case where a purchaser goes on to use a product illegally and the seller is innocent, and then there is a case where a criminal purpose known to both the seller and purchaser is the whole point of the sale. Obviously, the seller, when charged, has a vested interest in portraying the latter case as if it was the former; there's a reason we have trials with evidence rather than just deciding criminal cases based on public statements by either the prosecutor or the defendant.

      • Well if he writes it in a country where FTP servers are illegal, then why not charge him?

        • In that case, yes, they should charge him. But it's irrelevant to this case, because gambling software itself is not illegal, just accepting bets with it. You can write and export the software to jurisdictions where they actually accept bets.

          • by anagama (611277)

            Kinda like cards, dice, and poker chips. You can find these in practically every store in America, even in places where gambling is illegal.

            • True, but none of those is exclusively used for gambling. You can play cards without gambling or even being in competition with another person, you can use dice to play monopoly and you can use poker chips to play poker without any money changing hands.
    • by swalve (1980968)
      Another wrinkle is that it sounds like that he isn't being charged as a programmer per se, but as a guy selling software. To do illegal things, for cash and money orders. That alone seems like enough to create some suspicion.
      • Another wrinkle is that it sounds like that he isn't being charged as a programmer per se, but as a guy selling software.

        If you read the actual charge, he is charged with actually receiving bets, not as either a programmer or a guy selling software.

  • Real reactionary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DarthBling (1733038) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @07:41PM (#42469073)
    This particular excerpt just helps to show how out of control things have gotten:

    The case began in February 2011, when Stuart says he and his wife got the Kim Dotcom treatment after about 30 local Arizona law enforcement agents wearing SWAT gear and camouflage dress — some of them with bushes attached to their shoulders to blend into the woods around his house — descended on his home and threatened to send him and his wife to prison for 35 years if he didn’t cooperate.

    The search warrant used in the raid said Stuart and his wife were engaged in money laundering, operating an illegal enterprise and engaging in the promotion of gambling. Stuart has tried to obtain a copy of the affidavit used to get the search warrant, but it’s currently sealed.


    Why yes of course, 30 Arizona SWAT agents to take down a husband and wife accused of online crimes in New York. Sounds about right. At the very least, SWAT got the right address and didn't shoot anybody's dog.
    • by Richy_T (111409)

      Why should Idaho get all the fun?

    • by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @09:36PM (#42470293)

      The plea bargain is the most disturbing element for me. Apparently anyone can be charged with anything, and then forced to do whatever in exchange for a plea bargain for lesser punishment. The US is a very dangerous place to be right now.

  • Round 'Em Up (Score:4, Insightful)

    by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @07:41PM (#42469085) Homepage Journal

    Seems that the DAs office in NYC should be busy issuing Arrest Warrants for manufacturers of Guns, Knives, Automobiles, Hammers, Crowbars and Household Cleaning Products.

    Ahh fuck it -- just arrest anyone who has ever made anything.
    We can't be too sure.

    I'm sure Duct Tape has been used in many abductions and murders.
    And arrest everyone at Google too -- how many murder suspects have been found to have used their site to help them commit their crimes?

  • He did do something to stop the illegal behaviour: He didn't sell his software to them.

    He should sue for copyright infringement.

    Why don't the police go after Facebook? I'm sure many poker nights have been organised via the social networking site.

  • Next up (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Gun manufacturers held responsible for how their clients use their guns.

    The liberals up there in New York know this is a perfect test case to get all those Religious Right Republican biddys nodding their head yes along with them up until the time it's too late to say "wait! no!"

  • Wrong headline (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 03, 2013 @07:45PM (#42469129)

    The real issue here is: Should software makers backdoor their programs for cops?

    Stuart showed Wired a plea agreement [wired.com] signed by former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney James Meadows, which stated that he would plead guilty to second- and fourth-degree money laundering charges and assist the DA's investigations by, among other things, "aiding in the design of software used to obtain records, usernames, passwords, and other information stored on websites using" his company's software.

    Illegal. Any evidence acquired by that software would not be usable in court.

    • Re:Wrong headline (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Cowpat (788193) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @08:40PM (#42469699) Journal

      from the last paragraph of the first page of the article:

      “They made it clear that they would do nothing. I was expected to do everything, to modify the system to allow myself to get in to get the information they wanted,” he says. “Their whole intention was for me to retrieve information from those databases that were located in foreign countries. They were going to use me to get to the clients. But I’m not a hacker, I’m a software developer.”

      They want him to do it and give them the information, not create a backdoor for them to use. That way it's not illegal.

      Unbelievable. The correct response is for the countries in which the gambling sites in question, who are having their lawful business interefered with, reside to start taking retaliatory action - trade embargoes, expelled ambassadors, moratorium on extradition, closing airbases, etc.

      • by oreaq (817314)

        The correct response is for the countries in which the gambling sites in question, who are having their lawful business interefered with, reside to start taking retaliatory action - trade embargoes, expelled ambassadors, moratorium on extradition, closing airbases, etc.

        Antigua and Barbuda tried something like that [wto.org] They won the international court case but are not able to collect on the damages awarded.

  • by Aviation Pete (252403) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @07:48PM (#42469171)
    just wait until we have the first fatalities with civilian UAVs or autonomous cars without permanent supervision. The weasels in management and politicians craving recognition will point all the way down to the poor soul who failed to write perfect code in too little time. This discussion is similar to the one about who is responsible for shootings - shooter or gun manufacturer. Only that at some point there will not be an identifiable person holding the gun, and still people get killed.
    • We have already had the first fatality from a civilian UAV: a man was killed by debris when a Yamaha R-Max crashed (admittedly, under remote manual control). Prior to that, several people have been killed while operating remote controled hobby aircraft.
  • That's kinda cool (Score:2, Interesting)

    by obarthelemy (160321)

    It does mean the CIA is responsible for torture committed by 3rd-parties it transferred prisoners to, doesn't it ?

  • by jcr (53032) <jcr&mac,com> on Thursday January 03, 2013 @07:55PM (#42469285) Journal

    Asinine shit like this is why we need to maintain our right to trial by jury. If you're ever called to serve on a jury, please remember that when you do so, you are directly exercising the people's sovereign power to determine a just verdict of the case before you. A jury has the right to return a not guilty verdict if they so choose, even though the prosecutor and the judge will lie to you and tell you otherwise. Remember, you OUTRANK the entire government when you're a jury.

    -jcr

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      This is why I decided to answer a summons and not even try to get out of a trial. Then they cancelled my group. Whatever.

    • "Asinine shit like this is why we need to maintain our right to trial by jury."

      Not quite as easy at it sounds. The way the human mind reasons is not as the enlightenment thought.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYmi0DLzBdQ [youtube.com]

    • by westlake (615356)

      A jury has the right to return a not guilty verdict if they so choose, even though the prosecutor and the judge will lie to you and tell you otherwise

      The geek's faith in jury nullification is stupid.

      Jury nullification spares the home town boy and hangs the outsider.

      Historically, the way it worked is that the Klansman went free and the nigger got the rope --- often enough without the formality of a trial or a verdict,

      In the old days, postcards of such lynchings were quite the thing.

      There's nothing better to have around for the days when you just know that the arrogant idiot son of a bitch you've been blessed with as a client is about to piss off the j

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by jcr (53032)

        The geek's faith in jury nullification is stupid.

        It just so happens that juries are starting to nullify the war on drugs. You can be part of the problem or part of the solution, and it's clear you're on the government's side, so fuck you.

        -jcr

  • by nbauman (624611)

    But here's somebody who is and wrote a comic book about the subject.
    http://lawcomic.net/guide/?p=446 [lawcomic.net]

  • Seriously? Who does it hurt?

  • gun manufacturers are not responsible for users of there guns.

    • But federal agents who knowingly and INTENTIONALLY sell guns illegally to mexican drug cartels are.
      It's one thing to know that a product COULD be used illegally. It's quite another to design the product specifically for a purpose that's illegal, and to know that a specific partner/customer is almost certainly using it exclusively for illegal purposes.
      I wrote bulk mailing software. I'm 100% certain that none of my customers use it for spamming because I'm responsible about how I market it and who I sel
  • Car Analogy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chuckymonkey (1059244) <{charles.d.burton} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday January 03, 2013 @08:42PM (#42469711) Journal
    Are car designers responsible for drunk drivers?
  • Good opportunity to put in jail all weapon makers for multiple murders
  • by FoolishBluntman (880780) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @09:19PM (#42470093)
    I think the plea bargain agreement(http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2012/12/Robert-Stuart_Plea-Agreement.pdf) should land Manhattan Assistant District Attorney James Meadows in Federal Jail.
    He is asking the software vendor to commit theft on a large scale.
    I'm not sure of the exact change, something like conspiracy to commit grand theft.
  • ... programmers could be held responsible for whatever it is that they explicitly designed the software to do, to the extent that fitness for a particular purpose is actually applicable. Other than that, no.
  • 'Stuart showed Wired a plea agreement [wired.com] (.pdf) signed by former Manhattan Assistant District Attorney James Meadows, which stated that he would plead guilty to second- and fourth-degree money laundering charges and assist the DAâ(TM)s investigations by, among other things, âoeaiding in the design of software used to obtain records, usernames, passwords, and other information stored on websites usingâ his companyâ(TM)s software'.
  • If someone beats EZPass - arrest the programmer who built it.

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