Feeds

Was Julie Amero wrongly convicted?

Mouse-trapped

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Comment Substitute teacher Julie Amero faces up to 40 years in prison for exposing kids to porn using a classroom computer, but the facts strongly suggest that she was wrongfully convicted. Many issues remain, from the need for an independent computer forensics investigation and the presence of spyware and adware on the machine, to bad or incomplete legal work on both sides of this criminal case.

A recent criminal case in Connecticut points out the problems of computer forensics and aggressive law enforcement. It also points out how companies can get themselves and their employees into legal hot water by failing to take reasonable computer security procedures.

Take the case of Julie Amero, a 40-year-old substitute teacher from Windham, Connecticut. On October 19, 2004 Ms Amero, reportedly four months pregnant, was asked to substitute for Michael Napp's seventh grade language arts class at Kelly Middle School. Classrooms in this suburb of Norwich, Connecticut, apparently have PCs connected to the internet, but substitute teachers don't get passwords. Therefore, Mr Napp logged in, and stayed logged in under his UserID and password. Mr Napp logged into a few websites, and then turned the class and the computer over to Julie. He advised her not to turn off the computer, as she had no password to log back in. It wasn't the first time Amero had used a computer in the classroom. Indeed, she frequently used the computers in the classroom when she was supposed to be substitute teaching – many times in lieu of actually interacting with the 12 and 13 year old kids.

Julie Amero logged in to look at her AOL mail and, about six minutes later, either she or one of the students visited various websites about hair products or hair styles. Now one can reasonably ask why Julie was checking email, or for that matter surfing the web while she was supposed to be teaching. In fact, she spent most of the day logged on to the internet – not just logged on, but actively surfing. And why were her students allowed to be surfing internet websites about hair styles? In fact, Julie Amero had been reprimanded for not paying enough attention to the students and instead just web browsing while in class.

However, on this particular date, it appears that one of the sites that either she or one of the students browsed to had caused a series of "pop-up" ads to be displayed on the classroom computer – and displayed a series of hard-core pornographic sites. She stated that she saw a bunch of the students giggling at the screen, and saw the pornographic sites.

The substitute teacher said she immediately stepped in and shielded the children from the images, pushing them away or physically blocking them from seeing the images. As she tried to close the pop-ups down, new ones would pop-up. She walked down the hall to get the assistance of another faculty member, who advised her that there was nothing that could be done. Meanwhile, of course, the hard-core porn was popping up on the computer for all the seventh graders to see. The substitute asked one of the teachers to call for the school principal to help, but no help was forthcoming. At the end of the day, Amero reported the problem to the assistant principal, who told her "not to worry". Apparently, the incident was not seen as all that significant, and the log data indicates that Amero had continued to use the computer for the rest of the day – browsing lots of other sites, unrelated to porn. Oh yeah, and unrelated to her work as a substitute teacher. In fact, it appears that Julie continued to browse the web all day – even after the pop-up incident.

When the students told their parents what had happened, they told the administration, who vowed that Julie would never work in the classroom again. But they went further. The 40-year-old substitute teacher was arrested, indicted, tried – and here is the kicker – on January 5, 2007, she was convicted of four counts of risk of injury to a minor, or impairing the morals of a child (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-21). Indeed, she was originally charged with exposing 10 children in the seventh grade class to the materials on the internet, but six of the charges were dropped. The statute punishes "[a]ny person who...unlawfully...permits any child under the age of 16 years to be placed in such a situation that...the morals of such child are likely to be impaired, or does any act likely to impair the...morals of any such child".

Julie faces 40 years in the slammer for exposing the kids to porn. This despite the fact that a recent study by the University of New Hampshire, published in the journal Pediatrics, which indicates that 42 per cent of children ages 10 to 17 have been exposed to pornography on the internet in the last year, with two-thirds of them saying this exposure was inadvertent – due to pop-ups, bad URLs, or bad search results. Amero will be sentenced 2 March, 2007.

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.