Friday, February 17th, 2012

Developers Should Rejoice: Goldman Sachs Programmer Freed from Prison

I've always worried about the Sergey Aleynikov case. Convicted 15 months ago and sentenced to eight years in prison, Aleynikov's crime, while employed at Goldman Sachs, was uploading chunks of software to an encrypted server for storage—possibly accidentally including proprietary code while trying to retain open-source stuff. (For a good description of what happened, there's this account.) Some of the problems with this case include that juries and judges are crazily out of their depth in figuring out what his actions mean and which are customary and ordinary for programmers, and also the media is way worse: most of the headlines called him a "spy," which is some pretty nutty anti-Russian sentiment, and also they keep emphasizing that the code was "proprietary software" and worth "millions of dollars." Yeah, so is every bit of code, and none of it. Stupid! Also everyone thought it was so suspicious that this programmer was leaving Goldman Sachs for another company, with a fat salary. Um, that's how it works? In any event: Aleynikov's conviction has now been overturned on appeal, in the Second Circuit, with opinion still forthcoming. The decision was not based on his intentions, but, apparently, on wording of the Economic Espionage Act, so expect lots of fun garbled headlines in the near future.

4 Comments / Post A Comment

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

A spy, for sure. He dared to steal from the government of United States of Goldman Sachs.

This "proprietary code worth millions of dollars" is the type of thing that turns our entire economy into a game that GS can win while ruining it for everyone else (and has also caused that inexplicable 900 point Dow drop within an hour or so back in 2010). If DOJ really had the nations best interest in mind, they would make that shit illegal, not breaking their neck to protect it. The problem is, by now GS has ran it so well they practically own the government, as we all know.

After all, it's telling that being lured away by money from any other company is called a career move, but being lured away from Goldman Sachs is treated as treason.

zidaane (#373)

I think you have this wrong Choire.

His main reasoning for backing up the files doesn't make sense.
There is no practical reason to be removing open source software from a company computer as the software is OPENLY available on the internet. That's the nature of it. So, unless his reasoning was he didn't want to have to download it all again, that excuse is suspicious.

The SVN site he used to back it up onto was not for source control. It was just a site that was free and not blocked by Goldman's security. You would never use an SVN half way around the world for any practical reason and encrypting something before you checked it into an SVN would make the point of using the SVN pointless. He was only using it for storage and ease of file transfer.

I do agree it's not a case the Feds should have prosecuted.

zybhjk (#22,746)

@zidaane Try reading the GPL, for starters. Modifications or other uses of OSS code must themselves be open-sourced, a situation he could have easily been in. Maybe he was examining code for this, maybe for some other reason, but there are plenty of non-criminal reasons he might want to work from home or whatever.

Using a private svn server for corporate code is certainly stupid (although he encrypted everything maybe?) but you have nowhere near enough information to impugn his motives.

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