S.F. Computer Tech Gives Up Password To City Network

Terry Childs has been charged with four felony computer-tampering counts for allegedly locking out system administrators and supervisors from the city's servers.
A computer technician arrested for allegedly creating a password that locked system administrators from San Francisco's network handed over the code to unlock the system to Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Terry Childs, 43, of Pittsburg, Calif., met with the mayor for about 15 minutes Monday after his lawyer, Erin Crane, contacted the mayor's office to set up the secret meeting. Newsom agreed to see Childs on his own and did not notify police or the district attorney's office, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Newsom "figured it was worth a shot, because although Childs is not a Boy Scout, he's not Al Capone either," mayoral spokesman Nathan Ballard told the newspaper.

Indeed, Newsom's comments following Childs' arrest July 13 were less harsh then that of other officials. The mayor described Childs, who had worked for the city Technology Department for five years, as someone who had been well-liked and "very good at what he did" before he got a "bit maniacal."

Childs has been charged with four felony computer-tampering counts for allegedly locking out system administrators and supervisors from the city system that stores 60% of all government data, including e-mails, law enforcement records, and payroll documents.

Initially, the Childs-supplied code Newsom handed over to the Technology Department didn't work. Newsom then called defense lawyer Crane, who provided more information. Ron Vinson, chief administrative officer for the department, told the Chronicle that the computer network would soon be back under the control of the city and new passwords would be generated for administrators.

Ballard said he and the mayor were questioned separately by a police inspector after they returned to City Hall. Ballard and Newsom are now witnesses in the case.

Crane is expected to ask a judge Wednesday to lower Childs' $5 million bail, because of the suspect's cooperation. In her motion to reduce bail, Crane said her client had been the victim of a "bad faith" effort to force him out of his job. The lawyer said incompetent, meddling city officials had jeopardized the network that Childs had built.

"Mr. Childs had good reason to be protective of the password," Crane said, according to the newspaper. "His co-workers and supervisors had in the past maliciously damaged the system themselves, hindered his ability to maintain it ... and shown complete indifference to maintaining it themselves.

"He was the only person in that department capable of running that system," Crane said. "There have been no established policies in place to even dictate who would be the appropriate person to hand over the password to."

As to the charges he faces, Childs "intends to not only disprove those charges, but also expose the utter mismanagement, negligence and corruption at (the Technology Department) which, if left unchecked, will in fact place the city of San Francisco in danger," Crane said.

Childs served time in Kansas for a felony conviction of aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary about 25 years ago. He disclosed his criminal record when he applied for the San Francisco job.

Childs' problems with the department got serious June 20 when he started taking photographs of the agency's new head of security after she began an audit of who had password access to the system, the newspaper said. Childs' frightening behavior prompted the woman to lock herself in an office.

His supervisors' concerns grew when they discovered he had given himself exclusive access to the system and had developed a way to spy on his bosses' e-mails related to his conduct. Childs was ordered to leave work July 9 for alleged insubordination.

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