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

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April252007

Does Sentencing Delay Mean a Possible Reprieve for Julie Amero?

Julie Amero, the Connecticut substitute teacher facing a controversial 40-year prison sentence for exposing her students to online pornography, has once again had her sentencing delayed. Might the delay be a sign that prosecutors are reconsidering the evidence that led to her conviction?

As I’ve reported on several occasions since the beginning of this year, educator Julie Amero has been living a nightmare ever since being charged, and later convicted, of allowing students to see adult-oriented images on a computer in her classroom. Amero’s conviction shocked many educators, bloggers and Internet experts, many of whom believed that she was a victim of circumstances - namely, malicious malware that popped up on a computer screen, which was allowed to get through because the school’s Internet filters weren’t working properly that day.

Amero was originally expected to hear her sentence this past winter, but there’s been a series of delays, the latest coming this week. Rather than finding out her sentence tomorrow, it’s been pushed until May 18. The Norwich Bulletin offers some details:

For the third time since March, sentencing was postponed, this time until May 18.


The request by Assistant State’s Attorney David J. Smith, who prosecuted the case, was signed by Judge Hillary Strackbein.


“The state has not completed a full examination of all the issues which may affect its position at the sentencing hearing,” was Smith’s written explanation.

New London County State’s Attorney Michael Regan said because the case is pending he could not elaborate on any details. But, Regan said, “Issues have been raised by the defense. In general, we have an obligation and a duty to make sure justice is done….”


… W. Herbert Horner of Uncasville, the defense’s computer expert who countered Detective Mark Lounsbury’s claims, has maintained proof exists the pornographic sites were a result of viruses that infected the computer.


“I’m not surprised,” Horner said of the postponement Tuesday. “Simply because, had they done a thorough investigation the first time, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

One of the leading figures in the education community who has come to Amero’s defense is online safety advocate Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. An educator and attorney, Willard has been covering the Amero case since her sentencing, including publishing a comprehensive report, The Julie Amero Tragedy, which goes step by step through the case’s legal and technical issues.

“On the face of this, the school officials and prosecution maintain that a 40-year-old female teacher spent the entire day surfing porn sites in a classroom filled with students,” she writes. “That a teacher would engage in this described activity defies all logic.”

So once again, it would seem we have several more weeks before we know if justice is served for Julie Amero. At least the series of delays suggests that prosecutors and other officials are taking the appropriate time needed to review the evidence - evidence that many critics argue that was ignored or misinterpreted during the trial. In the meanwhile, Nancy Willard will be discussing the case on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live on Thursday, April 26 at 9am ET. The program will be streamed online in case you want to listen. I’ll keep following the story and let you know when anything else transpires. -andy

Filed under : Policy, Safety

Responses

How disturbing, when as mentioned real murderers and repeat convicted sex offenders, who know the system, do better than this poor teacher, who it does seem may be a victim of unusual circumstances. Using the computer today, is at best a challenge. There is so much only the experts know. I hope this won’t scare new teachers. And that justice is served. We just releases an innocent man in our community who was convicted of the bike path rapes, and murders. He was in jail for over 20 years. Our system can make mistakes, lets pray if she is innocent, she will be vindicated, and that it won’t take 20 years. Regards, grammy my website; www.grammology.com hope you like it….ds

I don’t believe this! A malware attack can kick an innocent woman to jail! that’s bad! really bad.

Next time use OSX

No porn pops up on my computer unless I click on a specific link. The only thing stopping porn popping up is that I don’t visit any sites like that, nor have malware, spyware, viruses, pop-ups, spam, etc. on my computer. Maybe the IT person at that school should be on trial?

With the prevalence of cross-site scripting, SQL injection, and other website hijacking attacks, it was only a matter of time until this happened somewhere.

An IT person can make reasonable attempts to protect school computer labs from attacks and pornographic materials, but there is nothing in the world that will guarantee protection from this content. It is unfortunate, but that’s the nature of any many-against-one scenario. Whatever wall you build, someone will figure out how to climb it.

The problem here is the reactionary desire of parents and school administrators to place blame for what is essentially a blameless crime. However, if responsibility should belong to anyone, it should belong to the spammers, porn-slingers and bot-net mafias that work so hard to entice people with their wares.

But what’s the point in trying to legislate the internet? It is too organic for laws to be enforceable on a broad scale. Instead, we should spend resources where they would be most effective: on educating our children. A healthy view of human sexuality and the analytical skills to deconstruct the flawed representations found in pornography are the best protection we can provide.

“No porn pops up on my computer unless I click on a specific link. The only thing stopping porn popping up is that I don’t visit any sites like that, nor have malware, spyware, viruses, pop-ups, spam, etc. on my computer.”

For this to be true, the machine must never have been connected to the Internet. The majority of the traffic on the Internet is pornography-reated; at its core, it’s just not a very nice place.

Unless you have the browser’s pop-up blocker set to no-popups, local security set to high, anti-phishing and two local firewall settings on, popups are inevitable. Even with these set, sometimes a popup happens, if it is strategically placed in the code of a trusted/spoofed page. In a classroom environment, this high level of local system security is probably not in place, because many educational sites need a lower level of security of the web browser in place to facilitate navigating the site.

The OS doesn’t really matter, many websites poorly executed interactive requirements may force naïve users into making their browsing activity/systems more vulnerable.

Thus, if there isn’t any network-wide firewall/anti-phishing/anti-spyware in place to weed out nefarious IP addresses, cookies, etc., systems are open to attack. Even if they have a sophisticated system that’s poorly managed, IP/DNS spoofing, website redirections and man-in-the-middle attacks can get around firewall rules as well. Even then, the hackers are constantly on the prowl, looking for new ways to get stake a claim on someone’s system.

Who’s to say a student didn’t modify the browser’s security settings and opened up the system (and those in the same VLAN) to infection? Finally, a remote website could have been hacked with modified links leading to popups, etc. A trusted site (can anyone say…Wikipedia?), completely underneath the radar of school’s firewall.

Overreaction and a convenient scapegoat. What a shame and travesty of justice.

Really… any article on this should pop up a lot of mousetrappy porn windows in the trickiest way possible, just to make a point.

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