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A Word About Our Blog Entries

The Julie Group shares a professional interest in the area of digital and emerging technology and law. As professionals there is a rich and deep appreciation for the differences of opinion that can appear in this space. You must never assume that opinion, where it is introduced is universally shared and endorsed by all our volunteers. Nor are they necessarily the very best snapshot of a given issue.

Readers are expected to think about the issues, question everything worth discussing, and add value to the conversation by correcting what's here or broadening the understanding of the subject. This is part of the educational process between us all. Our hope is that this exercise results in better law, law enforcement, and citizen participation in forging sophisticated social understandings of the technological forces changing our lives.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


Fear and stupidity combined with great power is a very dangerous thing. And that's exactly what's going on in this country right now.

In 2004, Julie Amero reported for duty as a substitute teacher in Connecticut as she had done for the past two years. Julie's life was on the upswing: She was pregnant with the child she and her husband Wes had wanted for years, they had a nice home in a nice town, and she was doing what she loved most, working with children. On October 19, 2004, Julie's life as she knew it was swept away by a "porn storm", or "pornado" caused by malware. The computer in the classroom where Julie was teaching was flooding popup windows and ads, some of which were pornographic, and Julie didn't know how to stop them.

She was accused, tried and convicted of causing the "risk of injury to a child", under Connecticut State Law. The law in Connecticut reads as follows:

Any person who willfully or unlawfully causes or permits any child under the
age of sixteen to be placed in such a situation that the morals of that child
are likely to be impaired shall be punished.

As I write this, her conviction has been overturned by the trial court and she is awaiting a new trial, as a result of the efforts of many: her lawyers, the Connecticut State Police crime lab, and computer forensic experts around the country.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are in the same boat as Julie Amero.

Witness Mathew Bandy, the 16-year old, who almost went to prison for a false computer forensics charge. Or the teacher in your district (I assure you, there is one), who has spent all of their life savings trying to defend themselves from spurious computer "porn" charges -- when it likely that porn was downloaded on a classroom computer by a student.

The problem is big. And it's not just schools. It's in business as well. We see trojans all day long that download nasty stuff, which aren't the result of anyone having done anything.

And how many people are never charged but quietly fired?

As long as this society has made the decision that porn is a dangerous societal problem, then people all over the world are operating "dangerous" machinery. And when you get educators involved, it's a disaster waiting to happen.

To us, Julie Amero's case has always been about two things:
  • Freeing Julie

  • Making sure it doesn't happen to others
Personal experiences have molded a lot of our thinking. One of our members wrote this, which was the spark that inspired us to undertake this project:

This is deeply personal to me. Years ago, a family member was charged with a very serious crime under the RICO act, for which I know without question that he was completely innocent. Tens of thousands of dollars later and a horrible experience, we finally got him out of prison. But do you know what RICO does? Your life, property, everything -- gone -- poof.

When people bang the drum about someone being "guilty!", I always pause -- and
look. Yes, most people charged with a crime are guilty. But not all of them, and that I know for certain.

New technologies require education. DNA analysis and evidence has been misused to convict innocent people, bringing the Innocence Project into being for the purpose of education and reforming the system to fairly use a powerful forensic tool. Computers and computer networks are also powerful tools, but much education and reforms are needed to be sure that they are not used against innocent people. In general, judges are not computer experts, nor are many of the lawyers involved on the prosecution and defense.

Our purpose here is twofold: First, to bring attention to those situations where injustice is being done through the misuse or misunderstanding of computers and computer forensics; and second, to prevent future injustice wherever we are able.


Nellie2 said...

Well done guys... there is a great need for this sort of education. If you/we can get a training presentation together then I for one would be happy to deliver it to any one who will stand still long enough to listen.

AndyAtHull said...

Great setup and on the whole another part of security that needs great attention. If anything, what happend to Julie has highlighted this even more.

Anything I and we can do as a community to improve this situation, I'll be happy to contribute. Even if it is just blogging about it elsewhere and passing the message onto others who may not read this blog or have the oppertunity too.