Coders Junction

When Coding is Criminal

When Coding Is Criminal

Opinion: Programmers whose code is used to commit a crime face new and perilous legal threats.

A federal district court in Illinois recently dismissed the US government’s case against Jitesh Thakkar, a computer programmer who was accused of writing code that someone else used to commit a crime. But programmers at large are hardly off the legal hook. Expect more cases against them in the not-too-distant future.

Thakkar was one of seven individuals whom the U.S. Justice Department last January charged with the crime of “spoofing”—that is, in this instance, using an algorithm to trick a market. Thakkar was accused of creating an algorithm that enabled a London trader to artificially overstate demand for stock market futures. Aided by another developer’s software, this tactic sparked the 2010 “flash crash” that saw the US stock market lose $1 trillion in value in just 36 minutes.

Consider Thakkar’s case a warning to programmers the world over. They might assume they’re protected by the First Amendment when writing code, but that might not be the case. Computer coders would also be wrong to think they face no potential liability if they’ve been employed by someone else to make decisions about how a product is used.

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