Should IT head go to jail for defying the boss?

Looks like the case is unraveling against Terry Childs, the San Francisco network admin who held the city computer system hostage last year when he refused to give his bosses passwords to the city computer network.

While it does, Childs sits in a prison cell because he doesn’t have the $5 million in bond money prosecutors lobbied for and had him hit with last summer.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge dismissed three of the four charges against Childs on Monday. Only one count was allowed to stand, and that was for Childs’ alleged refusal to hand over the passwords to the system to network administrators.

Prosecutors say they’ll appeal the ruling and try to have the three counts reinstated.

They have alleged that last year between June and July, Childs, who had been in charge of setting up a new network for the city, essentially commandeered the system, set up his own passwords and denied access to other network administrators.

Administrators later regained control of the system after Childs gave up the passwords to Mayor Gavin Newsom, who visited him in his jail cell.

Following the judge’s ruling, Childs reentered a plea of not guilty to the remaining charge. If convicted, however, he could still face a maximum five-year prison sentence.

So, was Childs just doing his job by refusing to give out passwords — even to his bosses — for the system? Or was he being a control freak and flexing his admin muscles? On these two questions, it would seem, his freedom will hinge.

For upper-level managers, this question demands balancing the needs of security (which Childs insists was his motivation) against the need to be able to control your organization’s technology.

When systems are being managed by employees who are the only ones who really understand their complexity and risks, how far do you go in relinquishing their control?

In this case, it wasn’t until the CEO met with the employee that he was willing to turn over the needed information.

It would seem this case says as much about mistrust of middle and upper level management as it does the rogue tendencies of powerful technical experts.

0 thoughts on “Should IT head go to jail for defying the boss?”

  1. I wonder what was really going on. During the development phase, it’s very normal for a system to be locked down so only the builder can access and make changes. One false move can screw everything up. Was it already deployed?? Or was it in progress still? Were they demanding his password? The root password? Or their own? If they were asking for his own pwd, instead of their own with the correct level of access, that’s out of bounds, though I don’t know if the judge will understand that.

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