January 16, 2006
Adware is at the center of debates over the Julie Amero case, in which a 40-year old substitute teacher was convicted of four counts of risk of injury to a minor, or impairing the morals of a child. More specifically, Amero did not turn off a computer which was serving up pornographic images in the classroom. Or, as she herself described it, "The pop-ups never went away. They were continuous. The computer was completely covered with pornography."
Supporters of Amero claim the computer was infested with adware. And that's entirely plausible. The head of the school's IT department admits the content filtering software wasn't functioning because the school had failed to maintain the license. And the year was 2004 - a period in which adware and spyware infestations were particularly prevalent. But whether the computer was or wasn't infested with adware is beside the point.
The fact remains that Amero did not turn off the computer.
Under Section 53-21 of Connecticut law, "Any person who . . . wilfully or unlawfully causes or permits any child under the age of sixteen years to be placed in such a situation that the life or limb of such child is endangered, the health of such child is likely to be injured or the morals of such child are likely to be impaired . . . shall be punished. The intent of the statute is to protect the physical health, morals and well-being of children." The law also provides that "the state must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) that at the time of the incident, the alleged victim was under the age of sixteen years; and (2) that the defendant wilfully or unlawfully caused or permitted the victim to be placed in a situation that endangered the child's life or limb, or was likely to injure his health or impair his morals."
The kids in this case were 7th graders, so there is no doubt as to the 'under the age of sixteen years' mandate. And the law further clarifies willful or unlawful behavior as "the conduct of a person that is deliberately indifferent to, acquiesces in, or creates a situation inimical to the child's moral or physical welfare". The legal documents further define that "'Wilfully' means intentionally or deliberately. 'Unlawfully' means without legal right or justification. Causing or permitting a situation to arise within the meaning of this statute requires conduct on the part of the defendant that brings about or permits that situation to arise when the defendant had such control or right of control over the child that the defendant might have reasonably prevented it."
That last bit is pretty explicit: "conduct on the part of the defendant that brings about or permits that situation to arise when the defendant had such control or right of control over the child that the defendant might have reasonably prevented it."
Remember, Amero did not make any attempt to turn off the computer, even knowing that "the computer was completely covered with pornography" and even knowing that the kids in the classroom could see it.
As for the "likely to injure his health or impair his morals" part of the law, this is further defined within the legal statute as "'Likely'' means in all probability or probably. As used here, ''morals'' means good morals, living, acting and thinking in accordance with those principles and precepts that are commonly accepted among us as right and decent."
Amero did not respond in court when asked why she didn't turn off the computer. But allegedly she had been told during substitute training or at some other point prior to the incident that she was not to turn off any equipment in the classroom. If a librarian had been told not to remove books from the library, and then subsequently Larry Flint dropped a truckload of Hustler magazines in the children's center, shouldn't the librarian's good judgment prevail and the magazines be removed? I think yes.
The Amero case isn't about adware. It's about poor judgement and doing nothing when minors under her care were placed in harm's way. And in Connecticut, that's against the law.