Good news for jailed SF net admin Terry Childs

Update: Ever wondered what happened to Terry Childs? He's the San Francisco network administrator who was jailed last year after allegations of hacking the city's network. Now it seems that most of the charges have been dismissed, after he's been rotting in jail for more than a year. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers read between the lines, and ask, "Political shenanigans or management stupidity?"

By Richi Jennings. August 24, 2009.

Updated 12.25pm EDT: add Paul Venezia's comment.

Your humble blogwatcher has selected these bloggy morsels for your enjoyment. Not to mention meow mix...

The SF Examiner broke the story:

A San Francisco Superior Court judge today dismissed three of the four charges against a former city employee accused of tampering with San Francisco's main computer network. Terry Childs, a former Department of Technology network engineer, [was] jailed since last summer after allegedly rigging the city's FiberWAN network and installing his own passwords.


Judge Kevin McCarthy today found insufficient evidence for three of the four counts ... relating to accusations he had improperly connected three modems to the network. ... A fourth count that was allowed to stand was for Childs' alleged refusal to hand over the passwords to the system to network administrators.

Jaxon Van Derbeken adds:

Terry Childs, 44, of Pittsburg has been held since July 2008, when he was accused of abusing his role as network administrator over the city's FiberWAN network - a backbone that carries 60 percent of city data, including police records, city payroll data and jail booking information.


He eventually gave the passwords to Mayor Gavin Newsom in a jailhouse visit eight days after his arrest.

Jeffrey "bluoz" Webb celebrates:

People that really know what they are doing in this field got suspicious of the city's claims back when it first started. This whole story reeked of incompetent management, rather than criminal mischief of Childs part. It was pretty obvious from the very beginning that Childs had enough control to bring down the entire network, but that never happened. The network performed flawlessly long after he was arrested.


Terry Childs nearly built the San Francisco computer network by himself, to the point of actually filing for copyright on his design of the network. Management in the San Francisco IT department apparently couldn't fathom half of what he was doing and Terry Childs himself called them incompetent on numerous occasions, which is pretty much what the sole standing charge is all about. Refusing to hand over the network to incompetent imbeciles.

Paul Venezia has been watching the case:

One charge remains, the charge that Childs violated a California statute regarding illegal denial of service for the San Francisco FiberWAN. This is a sticky wicket. The statute was originally conceived and written to provide a legal platform to prosecute crackers ... who knowingly disturbed and compromised the normal operating status of a computer system or network.


But can that statute apply to someone who was hired and paid by the government to build, maintain, and repair that network? Especially given that no damage was done, no resources were denied to any employee, and the network suffered no downtime?

Zombywuf explains:

He was simply doing what his job description told him to do. He was called into a room with a dozen people he didn't know, he refused to hand over the password to these people. When a single person (the mayor) who was authorized to know the password asked for it, he handed it over without hesitation.

And drinkypoo expands:

The [policy] was that he was only to turn the passwords over to the Mayor. This has been covered extensively. This requirement DOES go away if you're fired... you don't (by default) have to turn over any passwords! Just say "I don't work here any more, and I don't have your passwords." Meanwhile, if you do still work there, then you're still bound by the agreement you already made to follow the policies and procedures, which means he was bound to turn the passwords only over to the mayor.

  In other words, the only charge not dismissed by the judge is the only one which he ever should have been accused of (if any) and he has a solid defense against it. We shall see how it plays out, but it is not nearly as cut and dried as you imagine or pretend.

Meanwhile, dbIII points the finger:

The person that should have taken this all into hand and resulted in a normal dismissal instead of an arrest is [SF CIO] Chris Vein. He was originally an accountant but many CIOs are and some manage to pick up management skills and familiarity with technology along the way.


It's still possible he got there by merit, but it starting to look like a political appointment. ... Getting the police involved in a workplace dispute demonstrates to me that he is not paticularly effective, let alone the situation where there was only one person that could do the job. BTW San Francisco, do you have your free WiFi from 2006 yet? If not you now know the name of the guy that was in charge of delivering it?

So what's your take?
Get involved: leave a comment.

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 24 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him as @richi on Twitter or richij on FriendFeed, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email:

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