Felony charges dropped against teacher in porn/spyware case reports that substitute teacher Julie Amero is finally clear of the ridiculous charge that she impaired the morals of children by intentionally exposing them to pornography. The prosecution ignored the most obvious explanation, that the pornography on the poorly-maintained classroom computer was the result of spyware.. The state conducted no forensic exam of the computer and consulted no computer experts before charging Amero. (See stories here and here.) Michael Regan, the prosecutor, still doesn’t get it. It’s been reported that “he remained convinced of Amero’s guilt and was prepared to take the case to trial again.” The charges were dropped in exchange for Amero’s plea to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct and agreement to surrender her teaching license. I understand why Amero would want to put this nightmare behind her but the misdemeanor plea is truly a case of putting lipstick on a pig. The state should have let her walk with a clean record.
Legal blogs are a-buzzin’ over the story of the porn stash of Alex Kozinski, Chief Justice of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Some time ago Kozinski posted sexually explicit pictures on his personal, publicly-available website. The pictures have since been removed. I’ve read nothing to suggest that the pictures were obscene or otherwise outside the protection of the First Amendment but their presence on Kozinski’s website is news because (1) he is one of the highest-ranking federal judges in the country, (2) Kozinski has courted notoriety before (follow the links for details), (3) he is presiding over an obscenity case in Los Angeles from which some calling for his recusal, and (4) well, it’s porn. I intended to ignore the whole kerfluffle–Kozinski is guilty of bad judgment, perhaps, but so what?–then remembered that Internet law students know Kozinski as the author of the majority and subsequent en banc opinions in Fair Housing Councils v. Roommates.com CDA s.230. Trivial news, I know, on a day when the U.S. Supreme Court slapped down the Bush administration and ruled 5-4 that Guantanamo detainees have the right to habeas corpus, but in 11 hours I’m leaving for a week-long bike trip across Oregon and the Kozinski porn story better fits my mood.
Three articles I read today about Internet crime created an interesting juxtaposition. A c|net article discussed the affordability of tools for sale to facilitate online criminal activity, a Washington Post article discussed how unsecured WiFi connections enable anonymous, roaming access for criminal activity, and a Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) discussed the prosecutorial trend of filing criminal charges in venues that are physically remote from the persons charged.
According to c|net RSA, which monitors transactions on websites and ICQ channels between providers and consumers of hacking tools, reported at a recent conference that the tools are becoming more sophisticated while their prices are falling. Vendors are offering bulk discounts: 1-10 purloined eBay accounts cost $5.00/each, but the price drops to $4.50/each for 10-50 accounts, and to $3.50 for another 50 accounts. The Washington Post article begins with the tale of police, armed with a warrant, closing in on a suspected pedophile who traded child pornography online. Their target location was inhabited by an elderly woman who had nothing to do with the crime, other than being the owner of the wireless router beaming broadband access throughout her apartment building. Apparently one of her neighbors–police could not trace who it was–gained access through her router. There are more than 46,000 public wireless access points around the country, making it easy to log in, do harm, log out, and move on. The Post quoted a law enforcement official: “It’s frustrating for officers . . . If a suspect is going from coffee shop to coffee shop and using free signals to commit crimes, the police probably aren’t going to catch him. That’s the reality.”
The Journal balances the bad-guys-are-winning theme. In the short history of Internet law one thing is axiomatic: the Internet is everywhere. Usually we discuss how the Internet’s ubiquity frustrates regulation. It also enables prosecutors to charge crimes against remote defendants. If a police investigator downloads child porn to a computer in Buffalo, New York from a man residing in Massachusetts, it does not matter that the defendant has never set foot in Buffalo: he can face prosecution there because the crime was committed there. A concern exists that prosecutors will chose venues that will be hostile–or at least inconvenient to–the defendant but, as one attorney notes in this article, “inconvenience isn’t a defense.”
Yesterday Law.com (subscription required) had an article titled The Patent Office: Getting Wiki With It about the Patent & Trademark Office’s decision last August to remove Wikipedia as an acceptable research source for prior art searches. The article notes that “the surprise was not that the Web site had been banished, but that examiners had been using it at all.” Since banishing Wikipedia the PTO has been criticized for leaving on its list of acceptable research sources other websites that also can be easily modified. What could the PTO have been thinking when it allowed examiners to use Wikipedia in the first place? I refrain from taking constant whacks at Wikipedia’s flaws because it’s too easy. One can’t rely on it for anything remotely important. It is probably quite good for researching Dungeons and Dragons, but even there I wouldn’t cite it as my only source. Apparently not everyone has gotten the message.
For instance, last week I searched for articles on “Internet Crime.” Google returned Wikipedia on the first page of search results. I looked at the Wikipedia entry, wondering if it pointed in directions I had not considered. It certainly did. I learned:
Internet crime is crime committed on the Internet, using the Internet and by means of the Internet.
Hey man did you know that you smell . “Knock knock” whos there? “Me” me who? “Meow”.. Computer crime is a general term that embraces such crimes as phishing, credit card frauds, bank robbery, illegal downloading, Industrial espionage, child porn, kidnapping children via chat rooms, scams, cyberterrorism, creation and/or distribution of viruses, spam and so on. All such crimes are computer related and facilitated crimes.
Why keep reading after this gibberish? For the same reason our eyes are drawn to accidents on the highway. The entry continued:
With the evolution of the Internet, along came another revolution of crime where the perpetrators commit acts of crime and wrongdoing on the World Wide Web. Internet crime takes many faces and is committed in diverse fashions. The number of users and their diversity in their makeup has exposed the Internet to everyone. Some criminals in the Internet have grown up understanding this superhighway of information, unlike the older generation of users. This is why Internet crime has now become a growing problem in the United States. Some crimes committed on the Internet have been exposed to the world and some remain a mystery up until they are perpetrated against someone or some company.
After listing new Internet crimes such as phishing and “virus immistion” the entry’s language soared briefly to biblical heights and returned to the prosaic:
Then the light rained down on the innocent and the sinners were smeared across this paghe of hell alsothe expansion of already existing crimes on the Internet starts with credit card fraud. The crimes go on from there to cyber terrorism, illegal pornography, and copyright infringements. All of these crimes have mostly been in the spotlight because of the socially repulsive crimes committed by child molesters and the events of companies like Napster which were involved in copyright infringement law suits a couple of years ago.
A die-hard Wikipedian would say “instead of taking cheap shots, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and rewrite the article to your standards?” I’d take the time to put this article out of its misery, far from innocent web browsers (particularly among the “older generation of users”) if were confident it wouldn’t come back to life. I’m not, so I won’t. Thanks, but I’ll take my research with a super-sized order of actual substantive knowledge.
Wikipedia gets a free pass from too many people who should know better.