Pop-Up Crackdown

Sex panic in Connecticut


In January, Julie Amero, a substitute teacher in Norwich, Connecticut, was convicted of "four counts of risk of injury to a minor, or impairing the morals of a child." Prosecutors said she had intentionally exposed a class of seventh-graders to Internet porn. Amero, who has no criminal record and had yet to be sentenced at press time, could get 40 years in prison.

But Amero says she never intended to turn the lesson into a study in smut. She was using the computer in front of students, she says, when a loop of pop-up ads for porn sites began to appear. As she tried to close the ads, the loops only intensified. She says some sort of adware or malicious software on her computer caused the pop-up ads to appear; such infections were indeed found on the computer later, including the Web address of a seemingly innocuous hairdressing site that spun off the loop of porn ads that Amero described in her defense. The school had filtering software on all of its computers but had let the software licenses expire, rendering the filters useless. The prosecution later conceded that Amero's computer was never even tested for malware.

The state's expert witness, a computer crimes investigator with the Norwich Police Department, testified that because the URLs for the offending sites were "highlighted," Amero must have deliberately clicked on them. Yet none of the major Web browsers requires a mouse click to highlight a link; any address that has been loaded by the browser, which happens whenever a pop-up window opens, will show up as "visited."

Amero's antagonists are digging in. The Norwich Bulletin has run an editorial lauding her conviction, declaring that her "intent was apparent" and "her deeds were disgusting" but graciously agreeing that a 40-year sentence would be "excessive."