Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Julie Amero's conviction set aside

Julie Amero is the Connecticut substitute teacher who was tried and convicted for allegedly exposing a class of middle school students to Internet pornography. She was facing 40 years in prison this morning in spite of the fact that a number of information security professionals believed that malware on the computer was quite likely the true cause - rather than any action taken by Ms. Amero.

At the sentencing hearing this morning, the judge presiding over the case set aside the jury's verdict and ordered a new trial. This long awaited move followed a fresh analysis of the evidence by both the state crime lab and a team of malware experts on behalf of the defense.

As an information security professional with a background in criminal justice, I found the original trial to be a travesty of justice. Quite clearly the police, prosecutor, and jurors had no understanding of the information security issues at the heart of the case.

Not having examined the computer system in question, I can't say with certainty that Ms. Amero is innocent, but I can say with certainty that the facts presented in the case (as recorded in the transcript) were enough to raise reasonable doubt in my mind, as they did in the minds of nearly every single information security professional who had heard of the case.

The information security professionals outraged by the original verdict were not taking a stand on this case because they were supporters of pornography or enemies of law enforcement - quite the opposite. Many deal with cases like this on a regular basis and often work with law enforcement and against illicit websites.

They took a stand on this case because the 'expert' testimony presented by a law enforcement officer was anything but expert. They took a stand because they have seen what an adware/spyware/malware infested machine can do (pretty much exactly what the machine in this case did). They took a stand because there are plenty of people who deserve to go to prison for endangering minors, and it seems highly unlikely (based on the testimony and evidence presented) that Ms. Amero was one of them.

For those who want to condemn someone for this incident, condemn the school district for placing outdated operating systems, web browsers, and anti-virus; as well as non-functional web filtering on computers accessible by students. Condemn the police department for not providing sufficient technical training to officers charged with investigating and testifying on cases involving computers.

Ms. Amero has lost her job, reputation, and a pregnancy (due to miscarriage) for something she most likely didn't do, something that should have been prevented by her employer (the school district). That's the real crime here.

At least it seems like justice may finally be prevailing in this case. Technically Ms. Amero could be retried, but with the new evidence and the judge's decision on the first verdict, it seems unlikely that the prosecution would bother.


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