Pop-up victim gives up teaching

Julie Amero, accused of letting students see pornographic pictures on a classroom computer, has plead guilty to a misdemeanor and surrendered her teaching credential; she’ll also pay a $100 fine. In exchange, felony charges will not be refiled. But a soon-to-be-released report suggests she’s innocent, reports Wired.

Amero, a substitute teacher in Norwich, Connecticut, was arrested after students in her class reported that they’d seen pornographic images on her computer screen on Oct. 19, 2004. Amero said the computer wouldn’t stop sending pop-ups and that she didn’t know what to do with the computer.

In January 2007, she was convicted of four felony pornography charges and faced up to 40 years in prison.

Computer security experts persuaded the judge to set aside the conviction. The new report confirms that the school computer was unprotected against malware and was infected. Several witnesses gave inaccurate testimony in Amero’s first trial.

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  1. When you call for computers support, one of the first things they’ll ask is if you have the computer plugged into an outlet. It’s a common oversight. Given the severity of the potential penalties in this case, its sounds like a good idea for teachers to remember that removing the power cord from the outlet can solve this problem. Monitor first, but if its too hard to tell what cord belongs to what I’d remove them all. According to the Wired article the prosecutors argued that the teacher should have known to do exactly that.

  2. Several years ago I worked for a company which manufactured and installed computer networking equipment in K-12 schools. I’d expect that most, but not all of the teachers would have thought to remove the power cord. But a misdemeanor?

    The charge of “disorderly conduct” seems to be the U.S. equivalent of Russian or Soviet “hooliganism”.

  3. I’d expect that most, but not all of the teachers would have thought to remove the power cord.

    You would think.

    But when panicing, people often forget simple things (like this).

    Plus, even when not panicing, many people just don’t understand how computers really work. They are these “magic” boxes. An example: at work a few months ago, I started getting spam in my company e-mail in-box. The spam said it was coming from *my* computer. Which was off (I usually check my e-mail from a different computer via a web e-mail interface). I called our IT help desk to let them know, figuring that they might want to do something. The first thing they wanted me to do was to verify that my *TURNED OFF* computer hadn’t been hit by a virus. We went back several times on this … they were actually concerned that my *TURNED OFF* computer was sending itself the spam.

    So … I’m not totally surprised that this teacher didn’t think to yank the power cord. The IT help desk that I use at work doesn’t seem to think that power is a requirement for computers to run.

    -Mark Roulo

  4. No doubt. Also, the teacher was apparently instructed by her IT department NOT to turn the computer off. They probably should have been indicted as co-conspirators.

    It’s easy to imagine someone closing the window and thinking the problem was solved, only to return later.

  5. When you realize that the justice system in the U.S. is as broken as the eduction system is, you may become seriously concerned about our country’s future… And that’s before the collapsging economic system and the corrupt political system are taken into account. 🙁

  6. Sometimes the obvious solution is not so obvious. Years ago my family was talking about a sailor whose accelerator got stuck and was driving down a two-lane highway at 80+ dodging traffic while he tried to figure out how to unstick it. I’ve forgotten just how he got it unstuck, but I do recall that of the dozen people in the room — half of them naval officers who ought to be good at dealing with emergencies — only my Aunt Millie thought to ask why he didn’t take the keys out of the ignition. (This was before automatic transmissions, when that would have been easy.) Everyone else said “Ooooh, yeah! That would work!”

  7. Read the PDF of the forensic report, and that trail was a complete miscarriage of justice. You have a mix of prosecutorial zeal and willful incompetence on the part of the “expert” witnesses that combined to ruin a woman’s life.

    There is no logical way to deduce that Amero had intentionally visited pornographic websites from the evidence presented at the trial. The prosecutor and his IT witnesses did a fine job of showing that the machine had visited said websites, but the machine is not the user. This error, in particular, bugs me.

    In another case earlier this year, the FBI launched a scheme to entrap people seeking child porn on the internet. The problem is that they assumed that one IP Address equaled one person. This is another spin on the amateurish error made in the Amero prosecution. In fact, the FBI’s error was worse, because not only couldn’t they conclude that one IP was one person, they couldn’t even conclude that one IP was one machine.

    While two cases don’t make a terribly reliable pattern, I would urge people who use computers, especially teachers in classrooms, to develop a basic awareness of computer security. Malware, viruses, and insecure machines and networks open innocent people up to abuse at the hands of the legal system.

  8. What is wrong with all of you people making excuses for this woman? Don’t you know that children are our FUTURE? 40 years would hardly be enough for someone as callous and hardened as she. I’m voting for burning her at the stake.

  9. Mark Roulo says:

    I’m voting for burning her at the stake.

    Only if she weighs as much as a duck …

    -Mark Roulo