You’ve probably heard about Volkswagen emission scandal that surfaced last year. Basically, the company used some tricks to detect when the vehicle was under test and ran in low emission mode during those tests, and normally on the road emitting up to 40 times over the U.S. pollution limits. Cheating is quite easy because testing is performed indoor with the car wheels on rollers as shown in the picture below, so all the software had to do is detect whether the car was actually moving forward to select the right mode.
Several executives involved in the decision to rig the emissions tests got charged as expected, but what happened to the engineer who implemented the code following his boss(es)’ request? Reuters reports that he’s been sentenced to 40-month prison term, and a $200,000 fine, after pleading guilty early on, and collaborating with authorities.
His lawyer argued that Jiang (Engineer surname) was no a “mastermind” of the emissions fraud, and “blindly executed a misguided loyalty to his employer” , but the prosecutor countered that he was a “pivotal figure” in designing the cheating system. Liang is now 63 years old working in another position for the company, and the system was used between 2006 to 2015, so even at the time, he was likely a senior engineer, and not a “rookie” engineer. None of the “news outlet” I’ve read bothered to post a link to the court decision for people wanting more details… But still, that ruling means you could be legally liable for the code you write, even if you did not take the decision yourself. The case is not complete, as an appeal is possible, but it looks like they are only attempting to reduce the sentence.