Friday, June 08, 2007

Amero, part 2

Brian Krebs has posted an update to the Julie Amero case (the teacher convicted of harming students by letting them see porn). Krebs also links to an e-mail exchange between Nancy Willard and the prosecution's expert witness Mark Lounsbury (the guy who made the technical error).

The fun little bit is that Nancy Willard has a website and books that deal with the issue of "cyberbullying", which she defines as:
Cyberbullying is being cruel to others by sending or
posting harmful material or engaging in other forms
of social aggression using the Internet or other digital
technologies.
Compare that definition to the e-mail she sent to Mark Lounsbury:
Mark,

You did not present FACTS at trial. You are either totally stupid and naïve cop who should have never been given the keys to a $300,000 Internet safety van or you committed perjury.

I hope you find the strength to face the facts and to take responsibility for your words and actions, someday. I do believe that in the end you will be held accountable.

Nancy
The thing about bullies is that they don't know that they are bullies. Nancy Willard certainly doesn't believe she is a cyberbully.

This case is a good example of why company management does not listen to technical experts. Technical experts are angry because they understand how spyware and popups can lead to porn arriving on people's machines. They believe that Mark Lounsbury was wrong about this fact.

However, the case didn't hinge on that point. What was far more important was the testimony from children saying they watched the teacher click on porn. While the corrected technical analysis shows that the porn almost certainly started with the spyware/popups in the morning, it does not disprove the children's testimony that Amero was intentionally surfing porn later in the day.

Even that isn't the most important issue in the case. The biggest issue is that Amero did not prevent children from seeing the porn throughout the day. She didn't turn the computer off, she didn't even put a piece of paper in front of the monitor, stack books in front of it, put her purse in front, or do much of anything. Children viewed porn, she could have prevented it, but she didn't. (And that was against the law).

Corporate management doesn't listen to the technical staff for precisely this reason. The technical staff believes that everything hinges on the small technical details they are experts in. They refuse to confine their advice to the areas where they are competent ("porn first arrived due to standard spyware/popups"), but instead insist on advising in areas where they are not competent ("Julie Amero is innocent").

Its good that's she's getting a second trial where the correct information about spyware/popups is presented, but chances are good that she will still be found guilty. The students testified that Amero was more interested in watching the popups than noticing that the children were also seeing the same popups. Nothing on the disk drive would ever disprove the children's assertion that she was scrolling through porn-filled webpages (and letting the children watch her do it).

4 comments:

decius said...

While your observation about Nancy Willard is entertaining I rather strongly disagree with your characterization of the testimony and the facts in the case.

To begin with, the outrage in regard to this case is not merely due to the questions about Amero's guilt, but also the fact that someone can be placed in prison for 40 years under Connecticut law for negligently (or even intentionally) allowing 13 year olds to come into contact with pornography. While everyone agrees that she should have turned off the monitor, the question at hand is whether or not her failure to turn off the monitor ought to put her at risk of going to prison for 40 years.

As for the actual technical question of her innocence or guilt, she was almostly completely computer illiterate and was specifically told not to turn off the monitor. Absolutely nowhere in their testimony do the children say that she was "intentionally surfing porn" as you put it. I presume you haven't actually read the testimoney?

There are a number of children who are brought up to the stand. Their testimony is offered 2 years after the incident. They have obviously been coached by the prosecutor. They are mostly asked to provide detailed descriptions of naked people that they saw on the screen. Even the one who seems to be computer literate is not asked what context the naked people are in (ie does it look like an ad). Several describe being told not to look at the screen (although one claims the teacher was ambivilous). One child, who admits that he does not recall what Julie Amero looks like, claims to have seen her scrolling up and down in a window containing pornography. It is entirely possible that she was trying to figure out how to make it go away. I haven't read all of the case documents, but I've yet to see a single fact which clearly contradicts the version of the story offered by Amero and her supporters.

Sometimes cases do actually hing on small technical details, and corporate management isn't ignoring the technical staff because the staff is over reaching in their analysis, they are ignoring them because they don't understand the issues, and emotionally they want to reach a different result.

Matt said...

Some fundamental errors about the facts of this case:

"However, the case didn't hinge on that point. What was far more important was the testimony from children saying they watched the teacher click on porn. While the corrected technical analysis shows that the porn almost certainly started with the spyware/popups in the morning, it does not disprove the children's testimony that Amero was intentionally surfing porn later in the day."

No such testimony was ever presented. The children testified that they witnessed the teacher physically *clicking* the mouse. That's not the same as "clicking on" (i.e., surfing, opening, etc.) porn. Those who testify to the *actual facts* of what they saw the teacher doing (rather than what they heard from others that the teacher was supposedly doing) testify that they did see her clicking the close buttons on pop-up windows, which supports the defense.

"Even that isn't the most important issue in the case. The biggest issue is that Amero did not prevent children from seeing the porn throughout the day. She didn't turn the computer off, she didn't even put a piece of paper in front of the monitor, stack books in front of it, put her purse in front, or do much of anything. Children viewed porn, she could have prevented it, but she didn't. (And that was against the law)."

Incorrect. The law requires that someone "intentionally or unlawfully" expose a minor to some moral impairment. There's no definition of what "unlawfully" means. As a result, the jury instructions that convicted Ms. Amero are so vague that they would probably have been tossed (along with the conviction) on appeal as unconstitutional.

You would do well to familiarize yourself with the "reasonable person" standard. This standard has been used for about 40 years in striking vague laws like this one. It states, in essence, that a reasonable person would choose to steer clear of unlawful conduct, given the opportunity. If the same reasonable person (desiring to avoid unlawful conduct) cannot determine to a significant extent what conduct is prohibited, the statute is subject to arbitrary enforcement and entrapment, and is therefore unconstitutional.

Prosecutors in the United States do not have the right to ignore anyone who claims to have any piece of exculpatory information, no matter how seemingly insignificant. That this prosecutor claimed it anyway is the whole reason why Julie was ever charged, much less convicted.

Karoli said...

Here is a link to the full transcript of the trial: http://julieamero.blogspot.com/

Let me know when you find the part about the children saying she was clicking on pornography. Hint: You won't.

In fact, one student testified that the images just 'came up' on the computer while he was nearby. Another testified that she was scrolling, an impression one would have from seeing a cascade of popups on the screen.

Children did not view porn; they glimpsed it while she was physically pushing their face away.

With those facts out of the way, I'd like to point out your fundamental understanding of what the law requires for a conviction. First, an unlawful act which causes or might cause a situation which could do harm to a minor.

The problem with your rather pompous pronouncement is that she did not act unlawfully.

Maro said...

Mr. Graham, You are obviously a very logical person, one who actually examines and questions what is presented to you. Most in this world are either too lazy to think OR are too driven by their desires. It is quite obvious that most are ruled by their desires. They want the cop to be evil and stupid. So, he is. They make the puzzle pieces fit the way they want them to fit.

In Karoli's comment to this blog Karoli quotes from the court transcripts about one of the children saying Ms. Amero was SCROLLING and then attibutes the physical action of SCROLLING to "an impression one would have from seeing a cascade of popups on the screen" OK, let's pound that puzzle piece in with a sledge hammer.

If I'm not mistaken the act of SCROLLING involves a single web document which includes a scroll bar, a mouse, and a mouse operator. The operator would depress the left button on the mouse and hold it while the mouse cursor is on the scroll bar (prefered method) OR would place the mouse cursor over the arrow adjacent and in opposition to the scroll bar AND would depress/ hold or depress/ release/ depress/ release OR would depress and release the left mouse button in the field associated with the scroll bar AND then spin the mouse wheel in the desired direction. WOW, sounds like someone was interested in the content of the solitary web document they were viewing. How do you attibuted the act of SCROLLING to "a cascade of popups"? Who actually believes someone would be sent to prison for 40 years as punishment for scratching that special itch in front of children? Who has seen any evidence which supports the cascading popup defense?

For more on the subject I suggest everyone read the interview with Ms. Amero in the Washington Post. There was an attempt by the author to reproduce the cascading popup event w/o success. This was followed by a deliberate act of CLICKING. As for Ms. Willard, she doesn't sound like a nice lady at all.