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Be careful out there, netizen, the man is sometimes clueless

I just caught this via Alternet (h/t).



Julie Amero, a 40-year-old substitute teacher from Connecticut is facing up to 40 years in prison for exposing her seventh grade class to a cascade of pornographic imagery. Amero maintains that she is a victim of a malicious software infestation that caused her computer to spawn porn uncontrollably.

snip

On the morning of Oct. 19, 2004, Julie Amero's life changed forever when pornographic ads flooded her web browser during a class. According to the prosecuting attorney, David Smith, Amero's computer began displaying images of naked men and women, couples performing sexual acts, and "bodily fluids."

snip

On Jan. 5, 2007, a Norwich jury found Amero guilty of four felony counts of "injury or risk of injury to, or impairing morals of, children." Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and while it is unlikely that Amero will receive the maximum penalty, incarceration remains a very real possibility. Even if Amero avoids jail, she will be stripped of her teaching credentials unless the convictions are reversed.


Perceptive readers would have noticed that Amero was a substitute teacher, not the regular user of the computer. This would mean that she would have been unaware of the contents of the machine or the surfing habits of the regular user(s). While I understand that blog trollers like myself (and you) are at least a little more technically savvy than perhaps the average non-netizen, I would think that at least one or two cops in the precinct might have clued into the risks of adware and malware. I mean, don't these people have kids?

"I'm confident", I can hear you say, "That the police are smart enough to look for that. Aren't they?" You're naivete is kind of cute.

No, not in this case.


Detective Mark Lounsbury, a computer crimes officer at the Norwich Police Department testified as an expert witness for the prosecution. He maintained that Amero was intentionally surfing for pornography while her seventh grade class busied itself with language arts.

Lounsbury told the court that Amero musts have "physically clicked" on pornographic links during class time in order to unleash the pornographic pictures. However, he admitted under cross-examination that the prosecution never even checked the computer for malware.

Why didn't the police check for malicious software? According to prosecutor David Smith, the police didn't check for malware because the defense didn't raise the possibility of a malware attack during the pretrial phase, as required by law.

In other words, we only investigate so far as we are told we have to by the law.

Nice one.

Perhaps, when this one is redressed on appeal, the officers that did not properly investigate the case, or their bosses that did not offer proper training for handling the simplest of computer cases could be charged with malicious prosecution, dereliction of duty, or stupidity on the job.

Update: Dr. Dawg pointed me to this link that includes elements of a report from an IT firm that investigated the computer involved and confirmed the presence of malware.

Sounds like I-Search or Hotsearch to me. One of my kids ended up with that one after using Limewire. You'd clean the computer with Spyware Doctor and Spybot Search and Destroy and anything else you had, and twenty minutes later that damn POS would be back up--porn homepage and all.

Got it to a compuer outfit downtown. First time, they pronounced it clean. Got it home, still there. Second time, they went into the registry in some detail. There must have been three dozen or so registry changes. They had to fix those one-by-one.

All this to say that the teacher was ill-served by the justice system: a malware victim in a crowd of technopeasants with pitchforks and torches....

This post says it all:

http://www.networkperformancedaily.com/2007/01/the_strange_case_of_ms_julie_a_1.html

This is one example from (I have no doubt) a long list of ludicrous miscarriages of justice, many of which we won't ever hear about. It just demonstrates the inability of the 'morality police' to bring themselves into the 21st Century by understanding the workings of technology. An expert who doesn't use their expertise to the extent of their ability is no expert, in my humble opinion.
She's lucky they haven't just burned her as a witch, or weighed her against the proverbial duck to achieve a verdict.

I think that it's the attitude of the police that gets me most -> we didn't thoroughly examine the date because we felt it pretty obvious that our story was right. Yeah, a 40-year old substitute teacher decides to surf porn in a classroom full of little kids - hell, it seems likely to me!

But the police, hoping that they had enough information to convict, which was apparently true, didn't investigate the computer to see if it might have any evidence on it. Isn't that like passing on checking out a bloody knife at a murder scene? I know, my analogy is a bit extreme, but since it was the tool used to commit the crime, shouldn't it be obvious that it should be included as evidence?

Sheesh.

Canadian cops are smarter than this, right? Please tell me Canadian cops are smarter than this someone! No, Mr. Marshall and Mr. Truscott, I think I do not want to hear from you right at this time.

Here are my two cents from a perspective of a teacher. This post shows how percarious our jobs are. We have to be near perfect in our professionalism in order to keep our jobs, and in some cases it takes someone else to just say the wrong thing (regardless if it is true or not)to destroy your career. Even if you are found completely not guilty, the public whom you have been entrusted to teach their children no longer want you to teach. All people will remember is Julie Amero and Internet porn. They will not remember anything else. Her life as a teacher is over, regardless of what really happened.
Now I don't know what really happened in this case. She may have been surfing porn(stupid move on her part) and the malware defense is a lawyer trick, but I highly doubt that that was the case.

my 2 cents.

Paul

Paul,
I honestly don't know how you guys do it, for what it's worth. I'm glad you do, but you can keep the job.

As for this specific case, read the link that I posted in the update (from Dawg). There is no doubt in my mind that malware was the cause and she is an innocent victim of assholes that write these things and dickhead cops that don't care if they actually figure out problems, just that they get credited with the "catch". Come to think of it, they're both the same - just after hits.

Personally I think this says more about the criminal justice system in the US. In Canada I am pretty sure the police would have to check for malware, otherwise the defence could call an expert to say it could have been malware and if the crown could not prove otherwise there would have to be an acquittal. It appears that in the US the onus is on the defence to make sure the prosecution and police fully investigate crimes. It is a bizarre rule of evidence that results in innocent people being convicted, because it is all about winning the trial, and not about justice.

Gayle

You, my friend, have officially been tagged in the K-Dough Real Man meme scheme. Check this for details:
K-Dough's Real Man meme scheme

K-Dough:

Read your post, and totally agree with Kevvyd's nomination. Hear, Hear! I've known him for a long time, and he definitely fits on the list.

Great idea, BTW, I'll definitely be following that.

Whenever I hear about things like this, I'm reminded of the case against Perl language guru Randall Schwartz. He was prosecuted and convicted of stealing passwords from Intel executives. The case is somewhat complicated, but essentially he was hired by Intel to plug security leaks, and was maliciously prosecuted when he found said leaks and reported them (rather uncoothly, perhaps) to Intel management. It seems a certain VP had the password "pre$ident", and was none-to-happy to have this secret exposed by Schwartz. Oregon prosecuters were obliged to persue the case because of the importance of Intel to the Oregon economy.

Long story short, a technically illiterate judge found Schwartz guilty because his signature file contained the phrase "Just another Perl hacker". To the judge, the word 'hacker' didn't mean programmer, but rather meant evil-doer. The judge had no idea that people who muck around with small scripts to make their jobs easier often refer to themselves as hackers.

The point being: Never overestimate the technical savvy of the general public. And: Witchhunts are still seen as fun by some.

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