[an error occurred while processing this directive]

learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
January192007

Bloggers Back Teacher Convicted on Questionable Porn Charges

The blogosphere is rallying in support of a substitute teacher who was convicted on porn charges despite evidence suggesting she was a victim of malicious computer software and a lack of technical safeguards on the part of the school.

As I noted in Tuesday’s column, Connecticut substitute teacher Julie Amero was recently convicted for allowing her students to see pornography on a classroom computer. Unfortunately, it appears that the computer was infested with spyware, and the school’s filters weren’t functioning that day. This would suggest that the spyware on the computer released a torrent of porn on her screen, and in a state of panic, she made the situation worse by trying to close the windows, generating more popups.

The popular tech community Slashdot has seen more than 600 comments from the public. Yet there has been little coverage of the story by the mainstream media, apart from a few British newspapers and US tech websites. One exception is the alternative news service Alternet, which had this to say about the case:

The witness for the prosecution is a police officer who has to follow a very simple investigative algorithm. By all accounts, he executed his duties faithfully. Unfortunately, those responsible for evaluating his reports weren’t sufficiently tech-savvy to place his findings in the proper context. ComputerCOP Pro, the software the police used to audit Amero’s computer, is an automated user-friendly tool search tool designed for routine monitoring. It is not designed to definitively distinguish between user-generated clicks and the effects of malware.

Furthermore, the defense’s expert witness was not allowed to share with the jury more of the evidence he had amassed. Herb Horner has 40 years of experience as a software engineer and an IT consultant. Over the past few decades, Horner has traveled the world to investigate computer glitches. His clients include a Swiss bank, a major airline and a national chain of hardware stores.

“I like to get to the bottom of things,” Horner told AlterNet. “If there’s a plane crash, I say don’t just bury the bodies and take the trash to the dump. Find out what happened.”

If the defense had told the prosecution about Horner’s findings earlier, the prosecution might have been able to forestall problems by choosing an expert witness who was qualified to address Horner’s testimony. Instead, the prosecution moved to suppress evidence that it wasn’t prepared to handle.

Meanwwhile, more and more bloggers are coming out of the woodwork to criticize the verdict. The Classically Liberal blog writes:

I must keep making this point. We have insecure computers where we can’t easily keep control of the content on our computers. We also have a criminal justice system that assumes images on a hard drive are sufficient evidence to send people away to prison for a very long time. This is placing millions of people at risk and justice is being perverted.

Another site, The Blog of OG, offers some advice:

And I thought that getting fired is the worst thing it can happen. She said to her colleagues about this problem but got no assistance. It looks like the protection against adware on her computer was outdated or it wasn’t working properly.

One edublog, Region 19 BOE Gazette, pulls no punches:

The story of substitute Julie Amero deserves the attention of the teacher’s unions, parents, administrators and law enforcement and I mean both ears listening eyes open and paying attention….

As a teacher and a computer professional I have watched my students, neighbors, and my family struggle with how to stop a virus, or automatic pop-ups, or finding the “OFF” button. The story of this poor woman, in a strange classroom, confronted with a cyber-assault that no one seemed to know how to remedy is Kafka-esque in tragedy. Julie Amero is every innocent American.

The legislatures need to begin to demand rigorous “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt thresholds” on such incidents. The true villans exist in cyberspace and not in the office, classroom, or next door. The pushers of unwelcome content are victimizing too many innocent people and we need to confront the problem with a clear head instead of a brain dead, holier-than-thou lynch mob. Today, anyone’s computer, protected or not, can fall prey to profoundly disturbing misuse without the consent, awareness, or intervention of the user. And so-called computer forensic experts cannot, without significant compelling evidence, determine if human intervention causes the effect.

This woman needs a fair, intelligent retrial sooner than later. Her only crime appears to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone else involved should be ashamed.

Perhaps most notable is a blog post from ComputerWorld columnist Preston Gralla. In his high-profile column, he initially supported the conviction, but he’s had a change of heart after receiving an open letter from spyware expert Alex Eckelberry, who is offering his expertise for Amero’s appeal:

I wrote last week about a teacher found guilty of surfing porn sites in the front of a class of seventh graders — and I said that justice was served. But based on the many dozens of comments I got, it looks as if I may have been wrong, and her PC may have been infested with spyware. If that’s true, she was railroaded, and she should not have been found guilty….

I wrote in my blog that her defense was outrageous and that justice was served.

More than four dozen people commented on my blog that my comments, and her conviction, were what was really outrageous in the case. If the facts as they report them are true, then they’re right, and I was clearly wrong.

Among the people who said I was wrong was Alex Eckelberry, President of the security software company Sunbelt Software, who said that the facts the teacher reported were perfectly in keeping with a spyware infestation, and that “Every available piece of evidence known to the public indicates that that Ms. Amero is quite likely innocent of the charges.”

In fact, he claimed that the PC was never even scanned for spyware.

Dozens of others backed him, including several who have been victimized by spyware themselves, and said what happened to the teacher was precisely what happened to them.

One person claimed that the school system had a subscription to a filtering service that should have stopped any visits to pornographic sites, but had let the subscription lapse.

If that’s true, the school system, not the teacher, should have been culpable.

The number of bloggers piling their support behind Amero grows each day. She’s due to be sentenced later this winter. One must wonder whether the presiding judge is a blog reader and if this will impact the sentence. -andy

Filed under : Blogging, People, Policy, Safety

Responses

It is hard to believe that she would deliberately open up porn sites in a classroom full of students. My prayers are with her. I hope she comes out of this without having to serve any time. Hopefully, the administrators will back her as well.

Cynthia

Why do you remove my comment? I was supporting this substitute, as, while being a substitute myself for a substantial while of time, I had the opportunity to find out how difficult and underappreciated this kind of work is. Does my comment(s) include “profanity” or “personal attack”? I didn’t think so. But if it(they)does, could you, please, show me where and how?
If I am not welcome here, due to some other reasons, as I can conclude from your removals of my comment(s), just inform me. You have my e-mail address, so it wouldn’t be difficult
for you.

I have also described ny case against school system when, obviously, the system, not I was a guilty person. What is wrong with that description? It was and is very related to the discussed topic. So, why did you remove my comments?

Anna, your comments are still online, right where you posted them in the first place. I never touched them. You’re looking in the wrong place. There is no need to publicly accuse me of something I did not do, because I would never remove comments that were on-topic. -andy

I don’t understand how this could happen in this day and age of technological innovation. Are our schools so far behind in this area that the teachers aren’t trained for just this type of scenario? No teacher should be allowed in a classroom with computers without a rudimentary knowledge of how this stuff works and what to do in a case of this magnitude ie: porn pop ups in a classroom. God Bless her, she needs to appeal with new evidence and get this decision reversed.

I think it is wrong to punish a teacher that does know about computers to be in trouble for something that a school should be responsible for. I believe that if you dont have a firewall or a antiviruse on your computer you can get awful pop ups. computers are a machine and people abuse the principle of what a computer should be used for. People get paid to put all these viruses on peoples computers and people have to pay to get the virsuses out so let the poor women go its not her fault that computers are ruining childrens lifes its the people that put the websits in the computer that is at fault

This is a miscarriage of “justice” if I’ve ever seen it. Just one more example of how our system gets carried away with prosecution and trials instead of working on how to prevent incidents like this from happening. Julie Amero needs to have her conviction reversed and be exonerated of these charges. I know for a fact how easily you can be redirected to another website and have porn popping up without any participation on your part. Approximately two years ago we were traveling and found ourselves stuck in a large airport. I opened our laptop, accessed the internet and proceeded to type in what I thought was the website for Delta Airlines. It was not and I was immediately redirected to what was obviously a porn website. All sorts of pop-ups began showing up with very explicit porn shots, none of which I solicited nor wanted to see. However, I could not even react fast enough to prevent the pop-ups and immediately shut my laptop for fear anyone else around me could see these same pop-ups. When my sanity took hold I had to reopen the laptop, porn and all, and shut it down as quickly as possible as that was the only way to keep the pop-ups from continuing to appear. It was the most bizarre occurrence and hasn’t happened since but it is a perfect example of how easily it can happen. At that moment it doesn’t matter if it’s your 80-year old mother or a classroom full of students looking over your shoulder or at your elbow, you are just as powerless as they to stop the pop-ups from happening and of course, anyone looking at the screen is going to be exposed to it until you can gather your senses and shut the screen or the computer down! What has happened to common sense in this country? Without spyware or adequate virus protection and sometimes even with it, it’s a computer and you’re subject to exposure to ugly pop-ups, unfortunately usually porn. Julie Amero had no more control over this situation than I did and look where she’s at now! Let’s go for the real bad guys, not Julie Amero.

I think it is ridiculas that she is being charged. In my opinion the Sup. or whoever is in charge of letting the firewall subscription lapse should be charged also. I know they have a jury of your peers, but I think in cases dealing with Technology then the jury panel should be somewhat tech. savy. If I were a Teacher I would tell them to remove the computers from my classroom.

When I read the story, the first thing I wanted to know was, “why is a substitute teacher being allowed access to the school’s internet?” As an educator this is a very scary scenario for me. When I am absent from the the classroom and a substitute comes into my room the last thing I want is for that individual using my computer in any capacity. There are a multitude of potential problems that could arise, like viruses, spam, an individual’s misuse of the machine’s hardware and software as well as the visitation of inappropriate websites. The district owns the computers and pays for the internet service and in my opinion it is their responsibility to make sure their equipment is reserved for trained individuals. I would be devastated to come back from an absence only to find porn or viruses installed on my machine by another.

When I read the story, the first thing I wanted to know was, “why is a substitute teacher being allowed access to the school’s internet?” As an educator this is a very scary scenario for me. When I am absent from the the classroom and a substitute comes into my room the last thing I want is for that individual using my computer in any capacity. There are a multitude of potential problems that could arise, like viruses, spam, an individual’s misuse of the machine’s hardware and software as well as the visitation of inappropriate websites. The district owns the computers and pays for the internet service and in my opinion it is their responsibility to make sure their equipment is reserved for trained individuals. I would be devastated to come back from an absence only to find porn or viruses installed on my machine by another.

I investigated the link reported as the one
which created the problem. I found on a side
link ( dealing with Prom Hairdoos ), that a
trojan was being pushed that was probably
the cause of the problem. I have tried to tell
anyone who would listen, but so far, nobody
has responded, and the link trojan is still
there. Just how many morons were involved in
this? Certainly any computer tech could have
done what I did … right in front of that
jury. This is unbelievable.

732235717 [url=http://www.703836059.com]703836059[/url] http://www.393746948.com

[an error occurred while processing this directive]