This Property Is Condemned

Posted on 8th June 2007

I spotted the story of Julie Amero on the BBC News site this morning. While I'm glad there has been some sense to provide a second trial, with more appropriate evidence, I'm also disappointed that this should ever come to trial in the way it has. While I totally agree that minors shouldn't be exposed to the kind of images these sites promote, I also don't agree that a single SUBSTITUTE teacher should be held accountable in the way that she has.

Firstly she's a substitute teacher, meaning that her knowledge of the computer security systems is likely to be extremely limited at best and more likely non-existent. Did the school fully brief her on the security measures they have in place? Perhaps she should be suing the school or the state for not reasonably putting in place security measures to prevent children being exposed to this sort of thing in the first place. However, that perhaps also isn't fair, as in far too many cases the school or the local governement don't have any idea about computer security. It's why there are specialist computer security companies that are called in to investigate and secure companies and organisations.

I work for a company called MessageLabs. We work in an industry where stopping malicious content is part and parcel of the job. When you consider that in email alone we stop over 70% of mail as spam, virus, inappropriate content or illegal images and are also seeing increasing numbers within our web scanning and instant messaging serives too, computer security is a huge and very specialised business. MessageLabs are the largest company of it's kind in the world, and as such, every minute we stop hundreds of messages with the sort of payloads that would cause this kind of content to be popped up on unsuspecting computers. Are you really expecting a substitute teacher to have that level of knowledge and skill?

Part of the problem is education, and that isn't meant to be ironic. In Julie Amero's case, if the prosecution wins, then we are now expecting every single person to be accountable for ensuring every single aspect of their work environment is not going to get them arrested. By implication, we're also now stipulating that every single individual MUST be come a security expert. That ain't gonna happen. In my opinon this focus is totally misplaced. The responsibility for protection at the workplace lies solely with the employer. In this instance the school or state should have taken reasonable steps to ensure that all computer security measures were deployed to ensure that the desktop computers were adequately protected, and that their network was also appropriately protected, both from intrusion and in restricting the sites that can be viewed by any computer in the school. But whether you take action against the individual or the school or the state, you are still prosecuting the victims.

Taking a step back, the law basically stipulates that minor should not be exposed to this sort of imagery, which I agree with. However, as the law is very bad at being able to hold those truly responsible accountable, they go after easy prey. Although I do believe the law could be better written to make this sort of thing virtually disappear over night.

This kind of promotion is typically from the pornographic, gaming and drug industries. None of which a minor should be exposed to. What if the law found the owners of those sites personally accountable for the distribution of harmful matter to minors? What if institutions, such as schools, colleges and libraries, or businesses, such as internet cafes, and maybe even individuals in the right circumstances were able to prosecute the site owners? How quickly do you think that this sort of invasion would disappear? Unfortunately, those three industries are extremely big business, and can employ people to ensure that bills don't get passed that would effect them in this way. As such the justice systems become corrupt by allowing victims such as Julie Amero to be held up as a scapecoat.

I really hope that the prosecution's case fails, as otherwise the kind of precedence it will set, really isn't something I want to think about.


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