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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.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

The Effects of Justice Delayed

An article in the Boston Herald by Laurel J. Sweet entitled Probe shows kiddie porn rap was bogus is a sobering reminder of how certain accusations are as bad and worse than being found guilty of more pedestrian crimes.

Michael Fiola's ordeal within the justice system well documents what Julie Amero's and other's lives are like as they await her day of vindication.

The disastrous effect of rogue virues and malware on the lives of unsuspecting, innocent citizens across this country is incalculable. As you read this article, imagine a family member of yours getting caught up in a judicial system quick to punish, unwilling to seek out truth, and slow to absolve.

Nationally recognized computer forensic analyst Tami Loehrs told the Herald Michael Fiola’s ordeal was “one of the most horrific cases I’ve seen.”

“As soon as you mention child pornography, everybody’s senses go out the window,” she said.

Loehrs, who spent a month dissecting the computer for the defense, explained in a 30-page report that the laptop was running corrupted virus-protection software, and Fiola was hit by spammers and crackers bombarding its memory with images of incest and pre-teen porn not visible to the naked eye.

Two forensic examinations conducted by the state Attorney General’s Office for the prosecution concurred with that conclusion, Wark said.

Still, Fiola, 53, whose wife, Robin, described as “computer-illiterate,” wants his day in court. He intends to sue the DIA for “destroying our lives.”

“Our lives have been hell,” said Fiola, a former state park ranger now living in Rhode Island. “I hope to recover my reputation, but our friends all ran.”

- snip-

“There is no evidence to support the claim that Michael Fiola was responsible for any of the pornographic activity,” she wrote.

All the porn, she said, was located in the laptop’s cache, a computer feature that stores copies of Web pages. Consistently, Loehrs’ findings noted, there was “no apparent origin or user interaction preceding the pornographic activity,” some of which was downloaded “fast and furious.”
Citizens all over the country work on computers whose connections continue to be insecure due to expired anti-virus subscriptions or absence or lack of adequate anti-spyware and anti-malware software.

Yet in far too many cases, employers, police, and crazed fellow citizens are quick to assume that the people accused of possessing unlawful images must be guilty of something far more nefarious no matter what the evidence, their peer relationship, or common sense might indicate to the contrary.

The combination of manufactured and magnified fear, a relentless and mindless moral extremism, and poorly drafted laws that eliminate common sense are creating an ethical nightmare that threatens the very rule of law and guarantee to a fair trial for those falsely accused.

The judicial branch of government needs to reassess the concept of possession and intent in the virtual realms where the transfer and location of data and content may be wholly co-incidental to anything a real person on a given computer is actually responsible for.

Julie Amero and Michael Fiola are just two very visible examples of the need for more sophisticated law and guidance in cyberspace criminal proceedings.

4 comments:

Chip Neville said...

You are spot-on with this. The justice system is fundamentally flawed in regard to accusations of sensational digital crime, and we need systemic reform, and not just here in Connecticut but all over the country.

anna said...

Julie Group,
I'm a member of the Fiola family, and I just wanted to say that I feel for you and your cause so deeply. The past year and a half has been so hellish, and I can only imagine it's been at least as bad for you. I am praying that you receive the justice you deserve.

KK from Australia said...

I feel for this chap. I too have been a victim of wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution over something I did not do. I believe my wireless router was 'hotspotted' by someone who downloaded a lot of illigal material which was never found on my computer, but the overzealous police who raided my house found two legitimate video files that my 17yo son (God bless his soul) had downloaded one evening just prior to being raided. The files they attempted to prosecute me on were verified as adult actresses, yet here in Australia you can be arrested for having something that looks remotely like underaged images despite the person being over the age of consent (18)! They never incidently found any of the files they alleged were downloaded according to their search warrant - even after the date that the files they used were downloaded! 10 months of pure hell, having my name published as a person charged, presumed guilty until I proved my innocence in court, total destruction of my life, work, family, reputation and the list goes on! Yet, here I am not able to claim costs for my defence. The only recourse I have is to sue the police, and I have to prove malicious prosecution, which is NOT an easy thing to do - all with the threat hanging over my head where the state can go after my assets if I don't manage to prove my malicious prosecution case!

The laws need reform. No one denies the job is hard, and for the need to prosecute those actually doing these crimes, but far far too many people are being victimised for something they didn't do! The age we live in eh?

I just think of the many poor souls who have committed suicide after being accused of such a crime, just how many of these poor people were actually innocent but ended their lives because they knew their lives were over and/or would never be the same again!

I never gave in because I always knew I was innocent, and because I had the money spare to defend my case, what of those poor souls who don't have these resources?

Anonymous said...

This sort of thing is infuritating. I have a family memeber that was facing a similar situation. He used a poorly secured computer and was arrested and charged with possession and viewing images in the cache that he never saw. The really disturbing thing about this is that the witnesses available to the defense were advised that they were not to become involved in this case as it may have some negative affect on their careers. Both personal and work attorneys for various individuals promised vigorous defense against any subpoena. Fortunately the prosecutor educated himself on what the evidence was and when he asked the law enforcement investigators about the possiblility of innocence they acknowledged that there was no real way to prove guilt. It is too bad that some prosecutors will go to any length, including lying and perjury, to get a conviction.