May 25, 2013

What Is a Technologist's Responsibility After the Product Is Sold?

Go read this article on Wired: Alfred Anaya Put Secret Compartments in Cars. So the DEA Put Him in Prison.  This gets at the heart of a question I've mulled over for some time.  What is the moral responsibility of someone that designs and/or builds a technology once it is purchased by the customer?

To summarize my position, the designer and builder must make a good quality product, well suited to it's purpose, and the purpose must be for good and within moral boundaries God has given us.  In this view, the designer & builder are responsible if those become clearly not true after the sale.

However, this article is about Alfred Anaya who made custom secret compartments in cars, that at least some customers used to smuggle drugs.  He was eventually convicted of federal crimes and is in jail for decades - much longer than those that actually ran the drug ring.  He never ran drugs himself, nor saw them, but saw a large stash of cash one time in a secret compartment he was repairing.

The legal issues aside for the moment, what is the moral aspect of this?  In general, I think the technologist cannot control whether someone uses their product for good or evil.  I can imagine many scenarios where I would like a hidden compartment in my car. Any technology can be used for evil, so the technologist cannot possibly design out all evil potential.  The only other criteria I can see where he may have failed is to do technology within moral boundaries.  Apparently, compartments like the ones he built are popular among drug runners.  Should he have gotten out of that business because some customers may be using them for illegal activities?  Sould he have kept a customer receipt that he submitted to police every now and then?  Should he be responsible even when he only suspects someone of running drugs and risks carges of a false report himself?  Are there legitimate, good reasons for someone to install one of these in their car?  Yes, and on that basis I think this is a bad prescedent.

Agree or disagree?

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