TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Innocent Teacher Convicted in Computer Porn Case

Innocent Teacher Convicted in Computer Porn Case

John Christoffersen, AP Writer (
Tue, 13 Feb 2007 18:00:02 -0600

By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press Writer

Until recently, Julie Amero says, she lived the quiet life of a
small-town substitute teacher, with little knowledge of computers and
even less about porn.

Now she is in the middle of a criminal case that hinges on the
intricacies of both, and it could put her behind bars for up to 40 years.

She was convicted last month of exposing seventh-grade students to
pornography on her classroom computer. She contended the images were
inadvertently thrust onto the screen by pornographers' unseen spyware
and adware programs.

Police dispute that. But her argument has made her a cause celebre
among some technology experts, who say what happened to her could and
does happen to others.

"I'm scared," the 40-year-old Amero said. "I'm just beside myself over
something I didn't do."

It all began in October 2004. Amero was assigned to a class at Kelly
Middle School in Norwich, a city of around 37,000 people about 40
miles east of Hartford.

Amero says that before her class started, a teacher allowed her to
e-mail her husband. She says she used the computer and went to the
bathroom, returning to find the permanent teacher gone and two
students viewing a Web site on hair styles.

Amero says she chased the students away and started class. But later,
she says, pornographic images started popping up on the computer
screen by themselves. She says she tried to click the images off, but
they kept returning, and she was under strict orders not to shut the
computer off.

"I did everything I possibly could to keep them from seeing anything,"
she says.

Prosecutor David Smith contended at Amero's three-day trial that she
actually clicked on graphic Web sites.

Several students testified that they saw pictures of naked men and
women, including at least one image a couple having oral sex.

Computer consultant Herb Horner testified for the defense that the
children had gone to an innocent Web site on hair styles and were
redirected to another hairstyle site that had pornographic links. "It
can happen to anybody," Horner said.

The defense argued that the images were caused by adware and spyware
-- programs that are often secretly planted on computers by Internet
businesses to track users' browsing habits. They can generate pop-up
ads -- in some cases, pornographic ones.

"It's absolutely plausible," Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the
Center for Democracy and Technology, said of Amero's case. "It's a
huge problem."

But police would hear none of it. Many remain skeptical, including
Mark Steinmetz, who served on Amero's jury.

"So many kids noticed this going on," Steinmetz said. "It was truly
uncalled for. I would not want my child in her classroom. All she had
to do was throw a coat over it or unplug it. We figured even if there
were pop-ups, would you sit there?"

The Federal Trade Commission has been cracking down on companies
accused of spreading malicious spyware to millions of computer users

Amero and her supporters say the old computer lacked firewall or
antispyware protections to prevent inappropriate pop-ups.

"What is extraordinary is the prosecution admitted there was no search
made for spyware -- an incredible blunder akin to not checking for
fingerprints at a crime scene," Alex Eckelberry, president of a
Florida software company, wrote recently in the local newspaper. "When
a pop-up occurs on a computer, it will get shown as a visited Web
site, and no 'physical click' is necessary."

Smith, the prosecutor, would not say what he plans to recommend when
Amero is sentenced March 2. John Newsone, a defense attorney in
Norwich familiar with the case, said Amero might be spared prison or
face perhaps a year to 18 months.

Principal Scott Fain said the computer lacked the latest firewall
protection because a vendor's bill had gone unpaid. "I was shocked to
see what made it through," he said.

But Fain also said Amero was the only one to report such a problem:
"We've never had a problem with pop-ups before or since."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I feel really awful about the way this
poor teacher has been persecuted -- and you know she has been -- by
the so-called 'law enforcement officers' in her town. Most of them
know zilch, zero, about computers anyway, and the very notion of some
innocent teacher somewhere having 'porn on the computer' sends them
into a feeding frenzy. You take police who know nothing, and match
them up with a private citizen who knows almost nothing, and what do
you suppose will be the end result? PAT]

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