Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Forty years in prison is a lot to pay for not knowing much about computers.

It's happened to a lot of people. It's happened to me.

I have gone to a website that had nothing pornographic about it, hit the wrong link and all of a sudden a barrage of pornographic pictures shows up on the screen. There is even a term for a link that does this. It is called a 'mouse trap.'.

Should a substitute teacher get forty years in prison because it happened to her?

WINDHAM, Conn. - 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.

Prosecutors dispute that. But her argument has made her a cause célèbre among some technology experts, who say what happened to her could happen to anyone.

“I’m scared,” said Amero, 40. “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 about 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 hairstyles.

Amero says she chased the students away and started class. But later, she says, pornographic images began 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.

I've had to turn a computer off. It's the only way to stop this from happening.

But what really amazes me is how technologically obtuse the prosecutors and those who doubt her story seem to be.

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.”...

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.”

Uh, do you think the vendor's bill has since been paid? Of course he hasn't had the problem since then. And in any case, I've only had that problem once or twice, so it's not a common problem. But it does happen. And tossing someone in prison for up to forty years because she didn't know what a mousetrap is seems the height of idiocy.


EAPrez said...

Happened to me at work too. I did a Google search for a drug - clicked what I thought was a legitimate web site and it inserted something which kept resetting my home page to some porno site, IS couldn't get it out so they had to instsall Firefox on my computer which I use instead of IE.

Indy Voter said...

I've had some real fun with that sort of nonsense in the past as well. It required an active two-prong approach to make the problem disappear. First, I needed to make sure I had an active and *current* anti-malware program running (it's poart of my anti-virus software now). But, in addition, I needed to make sure that I downloaded all of the most recent patches from Microsoft (which are free and come out about once a month - including this morning I see), since the anti-malware software was only warranted to work with the most current version of Microsoft's software. If you don't do both your computer is vulnerable and will almost certainly become infected at some point - and once it's infected it's not easy to remove the malware or its effects.

But all that's the responsibility of the school or school system, not of a substitute teacher.

This is a pretty gross miscarriage of justice, imo.