Sorting out the facts in the Terry Childs case

San Francisco's network-abuse claims raise more questions than answers

Childs disputed this interpretation of events, claiming in court documents that Pieralde was conducting clandestine searches of DTIS employee workspaces and had removed a hard drive from an office when he confronted her. He also denied taking photos of Pieralde.

What occurred over the next two weeks remains a mystery, but at some point, DTIS officials demanded that Childs relinquish the usernames and passwords used to access the FiberWAN network devices, and Childs refused to do so. He was suspended for insubordination on July 9.

In the court documents, the city stated that Childs was placed under surveillance and was arrested on the evening of July 12 as he was parking his vehicle near his home in the suburb of Pittsburg. At the time of his arrest, he was found to have US$10,000 cash on his person and receipts showing that he had traveled to Sparks, Nevada, where he had looked at renting storage units. Following his arrest, police searched his house and workspaces. Police turned up 9mm and .45 caliber bullets, but apparently no weapons.

The possession of ammunition may have raised flags with the police, because 25 years ago, at the age of 17, Childs was arrested and convicted of aggravated burglary, and spent four years in a Kansas prison. In 1995, prosecutors said, Childs was again arrested in Kansas and charged with aggravated assault and carrying a concealed weapon. The case was reduced to misdemeanor weapons possession.

In addition to the bullets, police found documentation of the city network, including configurations, maps, and diagrams of the FiberWAN and possibly other networks. This was hardly surprising, considering that Childs was the lead network admin for the city and was on constant support duty for it.

Even following his arrest, Childs refused to divulge the passwords to the network. He offered to give them only to Mayor Newsom. Late on Monday, July 21, Newsom paid Childs a visit in jail, met with Childs for 15 minutes, and received the passwords. Newsom then gave this information to DTIS officials, and -- following a clarifying call to Childs -- DTIS was finally able to log into the routers and switches of the FiberWAN.

After relinquishing the passwords to Newsom, Childs' attorney filed a motion with the court for reduced bail. Considering that normal bail for a murder case is US$1 million, this filing was unexpected. The motion was heard on Wednesday, July 23, and was denied. Childs would remain in jail in lieu of bail.

Where San Francisco seems to have made dubious claims

Once Childs was arrested, the claims against him began to mushroom. Many don't hold up to scrutiny.

Exaggerated claims of jeopardized systems. The city's legal justification for the arrest was the fact that Childs refused to give the passwords to DTIS officials, which effectively locked them out of administering their own network. But in the press reports that soon surfaced, statements ascribed to city officials made it appear that some or all of the data on the network was in jeopardy, including e-mail, 311 service (the one-stop phone number for residents to get help on city services), and law-enforcement applications. But these services do not appear to have ever been jeopardized. And Childs' influence over this network did not appear to extend to these services, only to the network itself.

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