When computer programs break the law

Check out this recent report by Daniel Rivero with the provocative title “Robots are starting to break the law and nobody knows what to do about it.” Mr Rivero describes the “robot” in question–an automated computer program called “Random Darknet Shopper” and poses a unique question:

The Random Darknet Shopper, an automated online shopping bot with a budget of $100 a week in Bitcoin, is programmed to do a very specific task: go to one particular marketplace on the Deep Web and make one random purchase a week with the provided allowance. The purchases have all been compiled for an art show in Zurich, Switzerland titled The Darknet: From Memes to Onionlandwhich runs through January 11.

The concept would be all gravy if not for one thing: the programmers came home one day to find a shipment of 10 ecstasy pills, followed by an apparently very legit falsified Hungarian passport–developments which have left some observers of the bot’s blog a little uneasy.

If this bot were shipping to the [United States] …, who would be legally responsible for purchasing the [illegal] goodies? The coders? Or the bot itself?

Here is a reddit thread discussing this same question. For our part, since we are talking about an automated computer program, there is some positive probability that it will make illegal purchases, so we would restate the legal question thus: Shouldn’t criminal liability depend on how high this probability is?

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