Accused San Francisco network admin makes his case

Former San Francisco network administrator Terry Childs says he is going to keep fighting, even after seven months in jail, to prove he is innocent of computer crime charges.

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Former San Francisco network administrator Terry Childs says he is going to keep fighting, even after seven months in jail, to prove he is innocent of computer crime charges.

Jailed San Francisco adminChilds was arrested on 12 July, and charged with disrupting the City of San Francisco's Wide Area Network during a tense standoff with management.

In his first interview since the arrest, given a week ago, Childs contended that he did nothing illegal while working for the city and argued that his actions, depicted as criminal by prosecutors, were in line with standard network security practices. The criminal court case before him prevented him from commenting in much detail on the case, but he outlined his defence in recently filed court documents, describing a tense 9 July stand-off with police and city officials.

That afternoon Childs "unwittingly" found himself in a surprise meeting in the city's Hall of Justice, where he had maintained network facilities. At the meeting were his boss, DTIC chief operations officer Richard Robinson, San Francisco Police Department chief information officer Greg Yee and human resources representative Vitus Leung. On the phone were engineers, listening in to confirm whether the passwords he gave were correct.

They were not, and within days Childs was charged with disrupting computer services and faced further counts of unauthorised network access. He faces seven years in prison if convicted.

The 9 July meeting was the culmination of a long-simmering dispute between Childs and his managers, who had been seeking administrative passwords to the network since at least February. Childs had refused to provide the passwords, apparently because he feared that they would be shared with management or outside contractors, according to court filings.

Even though it went against the orders of his supervisors, Childs was doing his job by refusing to hand over the passwords to a roomful of people, his attorney Richard Shikman argues in the filings. "The response to suspend him was arguably legal. The response to prosecute him is not," he wrote.

The Terry Childs case can seem like a cautionary tale of the power wielded by the people in charge of computer systems. Or it can seem like a poignant reminder of how dedicated employees can be thwarted at the whim of management.

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