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San Francisco Just As Guilty In Terry Childs Case

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the does-it-get-4-years-too dept.

The Courts 330

snydeq writes "Deep End's Paul Venezia follows up on the Terry Childs sentencing, stating that the City of San Francisco is as much at fault in this case as Childs is. 'The way that the San Francisco IT department has been run is nothing short of abysmal, and that has been pointed out time and again by anyone paying attention to this case,' Venezia writes. 'Plenty of dirty laundry was aired out in court as well, yet through it all, the city has had a full-court press on Childs, and being both the plaintiff and the prosecution it spared no expense to drill Childs into the ground.' Worse, perhaps, is the disproportion of the sentence, when compared with recent convictions for intended malfeasance on the part of several notable rogue IT admins."

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330 comments

A better link (5, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267270)

"Printable version". [infoworld.com] TFS's link is to a two page version with six paragraphs per page.

Worse offenders -- even murderers -- get less jail time than Childs
Consider then, the case of Steven Barnes, the former IT manager for Blue Falcon Networks in San Mateo, Calif. Barnes was convicted of sabotaging Blue Falcon's IT infrastructure in 2008 [4], receiving a sentence of one year and one day in prison and $54,000 in restitution to the company. While Childs' actions caused no disruptions, Barnes deleted all company email, caused the email servers to spew out spam, and intentionally crippled at least some servers, rendering them inoperable. He received a much lighter sentence than Childs -- and in the same court district.

Re:A better link (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267924)

Well obviously the 'example' did not stop Childs from doing it, so time to make a new example.

I bet every IT manager knows of this case now and will most likely never happen.

That's a keeper... (1)

Anarki2004 (1652007) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267272)

"rogue IT admins" - I find that phrase humorous for reasons I cannot explain.

Re:That's a keeper... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267342)

Somewhat calls to mind the gangs of old women from Flying Circus, but in Geek Squad form.

Re:That's a keeper... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267352)

What level rogue was the admin, anyway?

Re:That's a keeper... (4, Funny)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267580)

"rogue IT admins" - I find that phrase humorous for reasons I cannot explain.

That's a typo. This IS San Francisco we're talking about - they almost certainly meant to say "rouge IT admins".

Not Surprising (-1, Troll)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267282)

San Francisco is in California, after all. Land of the bleeding heart liberals why cry foul any time someone does a good job. Perhaps Child's did overstep himself, but I still can't say I wouldn't do the same. Any time a productive, talented person gets promoted over for political reasons, it's bound to cause bad blood.

Re:Not Surprising (5, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267388)

Did a good job? The guy was keeping passwords and router configs in his head. He may be the best IOS programmer around, but that isn't the mark of a good job, that's the mark of an incredible idiot.

Re:Not Surprising (4, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267490)

Worse it is the mark of a megalomaniac. He was convinced he has made himself indispensable, that by keeping knowledge to himself, and endangering the systems in doing so, made his job totally secure. He though he ruled the roost and nobody could fire him. He found out the very hard way he was wrong. As the saying goes "The graveyards are filled with indispensable men."

The most important think in an IT person is that they are trustworthy. They have amazing access, and this that comes amazing responsibility. They need to be trustworthy to not abuse that access. He did, badly so. As such he really should never work in IT again. He's shown that he can't set aside his ego and such a person has no business having system level passwords.

Re:Not Surprising (4, Insightful)

Haffner (1349071) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267548)

Agreed. But does he deserve four years in prison? In most other professions, this would lead to a civil lawsuit and a fine, not a prison term on par with that of a violent offender.

Re:Not Surprising (4, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267672)

Whether he does or doesn't will be up to his lawyer to convince on appeal. The broader point here is that a whole lot IT guys seem to blindly be supporting him because he followed the letter of his contract to insane degrees. They paper over the fact that if this guy had been hit by a bus, his employer, the City of San Francisco, would well and truly have been up a creek without a paddle.

If this was such a big concern for Childs, why didn't he have these key passwords and router configs in the Mayor's office. Surely the Mayor has a safe or some other secured storage whereby this critical data could be securely stored in the event that the Mayor had to appoint someone else responsible. Where I work we have a safety deposit box where the originals of all the purchased software is stored, as well as a CD and hardcopy of all the passwords are stored. While it would probably be a bit difficult to keep going without me around, the guy that comes in after me would have a reasonably decent head start.

However harsh the sentence may have been, the fact is that Childs was a shitty IT manager. Being an IT manager is about a helluva lot more than being a clever router hacker, it's about documentation, about appropriate systems, and just as importantly about assuring, for whatever reason, that a smooth transition of IT management from one person or another can be accomplished. Childs didn't set up that damned network to benefit his employer, he set it up so that he was the cornerstone, and while the city has to take a lot of blame for not keeping a better eye on him, he violated some very basic tenets of sound IT operations and management. AS I've said before, I wouldn't hire the guy to manage a popsicle stand, I don't give a crap how brilliant he is.

Re:Not Surprising (2, Informative)

Haffner (1349071) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267734)

Try translating your argument into a different context. What if he wasn't employed by the government - should the punishment carry the same weight? What if he worked in a different field? It seems to me that if either of those conditions were different, he would have just been fired. After all, if a major company gives one person the password to their corporate bank account, and they won't tell it, did they really just steal hundreds of millions of dollars?

Re:Not Surprising (2, Insightful)

egamma (572162) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267842)

What if he worked in a different field?

He works in IT. Specifically, as a sysadmin like myself. That is extremely relevant to the case, and the fact of the matter is, as sysadmin, the very first rule is to never be the only one with access. Maybe put the password in a sealed envelope in the CEO (or Mayor's) safe, but make sure that several people know about the envelope.

Re:Not Surprising (2, Informative)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267854)

I wasn't attempting to measure the justice, or lack of justice, in the sentencing. You do bad enough to go to the courts, well, be ready for whatever comes down. There's nothing in most legal traditions that require every sentence for a crime be identical. It will be up to Childs' lawyer to try get the sentence overturned, reduced, new trial, whatever.

What I'm commenting on is the way in which a lot of guys around here just endlessly defend Childs, at best only giving a brief nod towards the fact that he had inadequately secured key data for a rather large organization's IT infrastructure. Part of the fault must surely be that there wasn't enough oversight, that he had been given too much power with too few strings, but even so, in his position, even taking his extreme view of the chain of command, a sensible IT administrator would have taken steps to assure the integrity of the infrastructure.

Imagine if Childs had been killed in a car accident days before city officials made their demands? Would you be defending him? Would any of the IT guys who post here be defending him? He's the classic model of a prima dona, a self-important delusional nutcase who whether out of some megamaniacal urge, or out of simple self-interest, made sure that he was indispensable. If I take the latter view, then yes, he deserves some judicial censure, whether jail time, or whatever. If the former, then what he needs is psychological help. Whatever the case, he's a shitty IT guy, pure and simple. I don't know him personally, but I know his type, the too-clever-by-half hacker types. These guys are dangerous to put in charge of any critical infrastructure.

Re:Not Surprising (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267726)

Did a good job? The guy was keeping passwords and router configs in his head. He may be the best IOS programmer around, but that isn't the mark of a good job, that's the mark of an incredible idiot.

You're right. He should have written the passwords on a sticky note on the side of his monitor, as all of the best books on security recommend.

Manager's responsibility (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267892)

that's the mark of an incredible idiot.

Who hired that idiot? I keep seeing people here state that Childs is a total egomaniac and deserves punishment for that. But who is responsible for Childs? His managers, of course.

Managers exist to manage people. Childs had the obligation to know how to manage routers, his managers had the obligation to know how to manage Childs.

Childs was one part in a big system, if he wasn't performing correctly someone else should have noticed this and replaced him, just like Childs should replace a router that wasn't performing correctly in the network he managed.

Re:Not Surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267424)

Kind of like how it was claimed on Slashdot that Hans Reiser was only being prosecuted (wrongfully, of course) for his wife's murder purely cause he was socially awkward? He was just trying to find the "real killer", right?

Re:Not Surprising (2, Informative)

dirk (87083) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267484)

This is a "productive. talented person"? Whether or not the city was run poorly (it is a city government, so it probably was) the fact is that he was holding the router and password configs hostage. Forget him getting fired and everything that happened, what would have happened if he got hit by a bus? He can claim that the other people were idiots, but idiots with access is better than a single person with access who dies, because then no one has access. I can even sympathize with holding the passwords, but what the hell would the purpose of not committing the router configs to memory be? So every time there is a power outage or a router needs to be rebooted they need to call him? That isn;t a good admin, no matter how stupid he thinks everyone else is.

It's a question of policy (2, Insightful)

koh (124962) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267292)

Frisco's policy in this case is: "Punish what you can't understand".

Re:It's a question of policy (1)

Matt.Battey (1741550) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267312)

Didn't the guy offer to give the passwords to the Mayor but not to his boss, by his bosses (or department's) own policy?

Re:It's a question of policy (2, Insightful)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267394)

The major (presumably a valid password agent) asked for the password over an open speakerphone while in the presence of a half dozen other people who were not valid password agents.

The boss did something similar (asking for the password to be given to him in an invalid manner).

Childs was screwed no matter what he did. Was he paranoid and did he overreact (probably).

Is the punishment legal? (sure), fair? (obviously not).

It's legal to give you a ticket for doing 66 in a 65. And to do so with cameras so you don't even know you got it. And to give you another ticket another mile down the road for the same crime-- every mile all the way home.

There are lots of things that are legal but not right.

Childs was made an example of.

The lesson learned is... you don't want to work for the government without a strong union and clear policies backing you.

Re:It's a question of policy (5, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267506)

I am not even sure I would call the punishment legal. They really shoehorned a law designed for something else into this case. In many ways he is getting punished for following his employer's rules when politics said he should have broken them.

Re:It's a question of policy (0, Offtopic)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267760)

It's legal to give you a ticket for doing 66 in a 65. And to do so with cameras so you don't even know you got it. And to give you another ticket another mile down the road for the same crime-- every mile all the way home.

No, it's not. If they did not stop you to give you the first ticket, then there was only a single infraction. You only exceeded the speed limit once, for a period of several hours. You did not exceed the speed limit several times, once per speed sensor/camera....

Re:It's a question of policy (4, Informative)

david_thornley (598059) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267636)

By that time, he'd already committed what he was convicted of.

Childs refused to record passwords, in direct violation of policy. When being moved from his current job, he refused to hand over passwords etc. in any environment, again in direct violation of policy. He then prepared to leave town without handing them over.

No competent sysadmin sets things up so he's the only person with the passwords, so that the network is simply screwed if he's hit by a bus. Childs went one further: he had the password for a file on his personal laptop that had the passwords in it. Had his laptop been destroyed, or the file system corrupted, the passwords would be lost.

Re:It's a question of policy (5, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267952)

Precisely. Whatever else Childs is, he's a shitty administrator. Do you think the city's chief comptroller has the only set of keys to important confidential accounting files? Do you think the city's chief personnel/HR officer has the only set of keys to personnel files?

As much as all of us IT guys have our moments of self-delusional self-importance, we are, at the end of the day, simply another aspect of any given organization's total infrastructure, and are bound by the same rules, and by the same basic set of good practices. You keep copies of keys, passwords, pass codes, whatever in a secured place. You don't keep them on laptops. You don't keep them in your head. You make damned good and sure that if you were hit by lightning the next morning your employer can assure continuity of operations. That is the most fundamental job anyone in a position of any kind of managerial authority in any organization has.

Run (0, Flamebait)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267304)

(1) Childs was wrong. You don't withhold passwords from your employer. It's his property, and he's allowed to be an idiot with his own property.

(2) Having been convicted, I would have run away. There are a lot of decent IT jobs in the Northeast..... almost 3000 miles away from the SF Government's reach. No different than running from Spain to Poland to start a new life.

Re:Run (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267346)

Point taken, RUN baby RUN. And if your ex employer wants you to publish all the admin password, take a lawyer with you and PUBLISH THEM. Don't try to help,just let them frack themselves as bad as possible by doing NOTHING.

Re:Run (0, Interesting)

logjon (1411219) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267366)

It's not his boss's property. It's public property. His boss doesn't get to be an idiot with public property.

Re:Run (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267538)

That's true, but it's for the voters to decide if the boss is being an idiot (and fire him), not the cogs in the machine (i.e. the bureaucrats and admins). Their job is to obey and hand-over the keys to the leadership.

How well do you think it would go-over if my FAA boss said, "I need a copy of your audits so I can submit a report to Congress," and I said, "No." That's simply not my job to act in such a manner. My job is to obey the chain of command. Or quit. Those are my options.

What if you worked at a nuke plan and your boss wa (3, Insightful)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267864)

What if you worked at a nuke plan and your boss wanted the codes over the speakerphone and you did not know if people on the other end where able to run the system and you know that your boss was not able to run the systems.

Re:Run (2)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267560)

It's not his boss's property. It's public property. His boss doesn't get to be an idiot with public property.

Well... San Francisco gave his boss the authority to ask and receive those passwords. What the boss does with those passwords are between his boss and San Francisco.

Re:Run (2)

joeytmann (664434) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267602)

Its City property. And yes, its their equipment to be an idiot with. While Childs was following the policy to the letter, he should have realized his boss was a power hungry idiot that wasn't about to let his minion make him look like an idiot, and just handed over the passwords, packed up his shit and said "See ya!"

Re:Run (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267696)

He was officially given total responsibility and authority, so it really doesn't matter who's property it was on paper. His boss was the de facto owner. The office bathrooms are the public's property too, but that but that doesn't mean the city offices have to allow any passerby to come the building and use it. For that matter, the offices themselves are public property, but try strolling into the Mayors office unannounced....

Re:Run (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267464)

(2) Having been convicted, I would have run away. There are a lot of decent IT jobs in the Northeast..... almost 3000 miles away from the SF Government's reach. No different than running from Spain to Poland to start a new life.

Minor problem with your idea:

A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.

Re:Run (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267606)

I'm betting Governor Schwarzenegger wouldn't care enough to issue that extradition order. In fact he might even side with Childs (hypothetically hiding in the northeast) and slap-down the SF Mayor for being a dick.

There's also the possibility that the Northeast State would protect the citizen from extradition. That is what happened during the slavery days when states refused to return escaped blacks and instead gave them asylum (i.e. they used nullification of the US Fugitive Slave Act).

Re:Run (3, Interesting)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267684)

I'm betting the Governors involved would treat him as any other convicted criminal and Childs would add a few more years onto his sentence for escape/flight.....

Re:Run (2, Interesting)

Wowlapalooza (1339989) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267750)

(1) Childs was wrong. You don't withhold passwords from your employer. It's his property, and he's allowed to be an idiot with his own property.

Please cite a legal authority for your assertion that passwords are "property". Since they are intangible, I can only think that Intellectual Property laws would have bearing on that assertion. But, since the passwords were neither patented nor trademarked nor copyrighted (copywritten?), I don't see how your assertion can hold up.

In any case, even if you could make a "property" argument, that's not the basis of his conviction. He wasn't convicted for stealing the city's "property". He was convicted under an "anti-hacking" statute. Essentially what they got him on was "denying services to authorized users", which takes quite a bit of intellectual contortion, since no-one ever proved that his actions directly prevented services to any end-users, only that his inaction (i.e. his initial refusal to disclose passwords after his employment was terminated) temporarily inconvenienced administrators, until they could complete their password-recovery procedures. That's clearly not the scenario that the statute was meant to cover, and this turned out to be an incredibly novel precedent for applying "anti-hacking" rules to a run-of-the-mill employer/employee confrontation.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this precedent endangers all of us in the IT field -- taken to its extreme, it means employers can lay claim to anything that ex-employees know, if it helps them run their systems or their networks better. Passwords, code optimizations, little quirks in configurations of various systems/subsystems, the list goes on. All of these are now potentially fair game for employers to force ex-employees to divulge, if they can make a plausible claim that -- however indirectly -- they are necessary to deliver services to their end-users. If the ex-employee refuses to comply, they're in violation of an "anti-hacking" statute. Silence = hacking. Wonderful.

What is even more amazing is there was a (supposedly) tech-savvy member of the jury, who should have been able to explain what a crock this was, but was swayed by the tech-illiterate arguments of the prosecution and thus could not, or would not, prevent this travesty of justice. He's even posted here on /. trying to rationalize his actions, and his vote.

I suspect, however, that some peer pressure was involved here, as often happens on juries (I know this firsthand from one of the juries on which I've served).

Re:Run (1)

Wowlapalooza (1339989) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267852)

Sorry to followup on my own post, but I neglected to mention the Free Speech aspect of this case. Free Speech means, in part, that (unless life or limb are in imminent danger, perhaps) one cannot be compelled to speak. But that's exactly what happened here. He was forced, by an "anti-hacking" statute, to utter something upon which he obviously preferred to stay silent.

Along Constitutional lines of thought, as a "what if" experiment, I wonder what would have happened if Terry had invoked his Fifth Amendment Right Against Self-incrimination. After all, there might have been something criminal in the passwords themselves (a terrorist plot, a threat against a head of state, an encoded fragment of a prohibited image). Could a mere California statute override the hallowed and vaunted federalRight Against Self-Incrimination? I guess we'll never know...

Re:Run (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267888)

I agree with your points about IP and what this decision means for future IT folk. I wouldn't blame the jury for the result, though.. Most of the problems that I had on a jury were that all of the interesting stuff happened before the trial. That's when the discovery took place and various motions occurred on what would be allowed and what wouldn't. By the time the trial happened, we were only allowed to see a small part of the testimony with some huge holes in it. We had to decide the outcome based on what they showed us, not on the complete facts of the case. If we could have asked our own questions, it would have been a lot different deliberations.

Re:Run (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267974)

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this precedent endangers all of us in the IT field -- taken to its extreme, it means employers can lay claim to anything that ex-employees know, if it helps them run their systems or their networks better.

I disagree. Childs was asked to provide access to the relevant networks while still an employee and refused.

You can't set yourself up as the only person with access to something and refuse to provide it to anyone else, including your superiors, so, yeah, I think it's an exaggeration to make the generalization you did.

In most cases you still wouldn't see criminal charges filed for doing even that, but this isn't most cases.

Article 4 Section II Clause 2 (3, Informative)

westlake (615356) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267918)

2) Having been convicted, I would have run away. There are a lot of decent IT jobs in the Northeast..... almost 3000 miles away from the SF Government's reach. No different than running from Spain to Poland to start a new life.

US Constitution, Article 4, Section II, Clause 2:

"A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime."

You achieve nothing in your interstate flight but a quarantee of conviction on a new and stiffer felony charge.

You will be doing hard time even if your prior conviction is overturned.

put the city in jail! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267314)

Jail the city!

Re:put the city in jail! (1)

weav (158099) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267808)

SF's jail is in another city, in another county. I don't they they'd appreciate the influx.

And people ask about my new sliver hat (3, Insightful)

Haffner (1349071) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267320)

Every time I read something positive pertaining to the American justice system I seem to be two years older than the last time. How does he possibly deserve four years in prison for this?

Re:And people ask about my new sliver hat (0, Troll)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267426)

Welcome to the best, broken, judicial system in the world! When, seemingly, most of our judges seem unable to read and comprehend, which is both the easiest to understand and the highest law of the land, the US Constitution, how can you expect any other result?

As an interesting note, previously our federal courts have been so screwed up, over half of them were dissolved (firing the judges) at one time (I no longer remember all the details). It seems such a firing is in dire need; and then again at the state level.

The courts are for justice, not politics. When the two are confused or conflated, justice becomes impossible. Lady Justice can not serve her purpose when politics is her eyes. She's supposed to be blind, and by design.

Re:And people ask about my new sliver hat (1)

jythie (914043) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267476)

I think the problem is, judges can read and understand the law just fine. Juries on the other hand generally have no idea what they are doing.

Re:And people ask about my new sliver hat (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267624)

Judges are free to toss out jury findings at any time, when it is felt it is in conflict with justice, or if its felt the jury did not understand what it is they were to do. In a courtroom, where its obvious the prosecution is extremely biased, has reason to be biased, a judge has an obligation. That's exactly why he's there in the first place.

The fact the judge didn't do his job absolutely means he is part of the problem. As you rightly point out, other areas need to be addressed, but when a judge is actually doing his job, by in large, everything else tends to fall into place, or at a minimum, not fall so far astray.

Removing unfit judges would go a long, long, long way toward fixing the US' broken legal system.

Re:And people ask about my new sliver hat (4, Funny)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267480)

When, seemingly, most of our judges seem unable to read and comprehend, which is both the easiest to understand and the highest law of the land, the US Constitution, how can you expect any other result?

But the Constitution doesn't mean what it says. It's a living document that evolves over time. That's why we only allow people with law degrees to decide what it means. Following the plain text of the document? That's crazy talk.....

Re:And people ask about my new sliver hat (1)

Haffner (1349071) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267570)

My problem is how one minute the government claims the Constitution as absolute, unchangeable law, and then the next says "Oh, but it didn't take this into consideration."

Re:And people ask about my new sliver hat (2)

Haffner (1349071) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267524)

In my opinion, the judges aren't the problem, it's the system in general. Prosecutors are pressured into going for maximums, and having a 100% conviction rate. In order to put together a successful defense, one must spend thousands of dollars. The laws themselves frequently do not take into account the severity of the crimes (see convicted song pirates).

This isn't even taking into account the police, who will also do everything they can to guarantee a conviction. It seems that we have moved from a legal system that would prefer letting a guilty man go free rather than imprisoning an innocent to one where we would gladly imprison 10 people, despite 9 of them being innocent to catch a single guilty.

Re:And people ask about my new sliver hat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267958)

Interesting. You blame the prosecution and the police. Yet the fact that they are simply following the laws your voted on representatives enacted doesn't seem to factor in at all.

Of course, if they didn't follow those laws (or rather the subset you like) then you'd be complaining about them legislating from the bench, going against the public and what not.

This isn't even taking into account the police, who will also do everything they can to guarantee a conviction. It seems that we have moved from a legal system that would prefer letting a guilty man go free rather than imprisoning an innocent to one where we would gladly imprison 10 people, despite 9 of them being innocent to catch a single guilty.

No such system ever existed except in the rosy eyed view of those who have never looked at history. Worst came to worst you just lynched the guy back in the day and then ate a picnic under his swinging body.

Re:And people ask about my new sliver hat (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267444)

I would guess it involves political influence and personal pride, both pushing up the sentence because someone's feelings and "good name" were hurt by his actions.'

AKA Childs made the Mayor upset and look bad, end of story. Politics is never "fair or balanced" and it sure doesn't follow rules.

Re:And people ask about my new sliver hat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267598)

While 4 years may seem excessive, the reason his sentence was so much longer than the other people mentioned in TFA was because they pleaded guilty in exchange for reduced sentences. Childs pleaded not guilty, and got hit with the maximum when he was convicted.
  I'll agree that wrong was done on both sides, and if Childs had been able to acknowledge the same thing, he probably could have gotten away with a slap on the wrist. His self righteousness is what landed him all that jail time.

Bad Headline... TFA not much better. (4, Insightful)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267326)

You can skip reading TFA; all of it that's relevant to the headline is in the article summary.

Most of the article is pointing out other people who did worse things and got lighter sentences. Frankly, I think that's a useless argument; for any crime, you can just about always find someone who committed a greater crime and received a lesser sentence. So what?

I think there's a lot of an interesting dialogue to be had about the Terry Childs case, but this particular article doesn't add anything to that discussion.

Re:Bad Headline... TFA not much better. (1)

Haffner (1349071) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267432)

I think the best observation I have seen regarding this case was made in the last discussion thread: Link [slashdot.org]

Re:Bad Headline... TFA not much better. (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267588)

Frankly, I think that's a useless argument; for any crime, you can just about always find someone who committed a greater crime and received a lesser sentence. So what?

So it starts to mean something when the prosecution has a vested interest and EVERYONE else who committed a greater crime of the same nature got a lesser sentence in the very same court.

Re:Bad Headline... TFA not much better. (2, Insightful)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267686)

The only thing I can really get behind in the article is the fact that Childs was in jail for two years before his trial began. That sounds very much like a violation of his right to a speedy trial to me.

The rest, though, is pointless rambling about the nature of the legal system (even though he doesn't frame it that way, that's the heart of his problem).

He mentions a murder case where the murderer received a 1 year sentence. However, nobody has ever been convicted of murder and gotten a 1 year sentence. The minimums vary by state, but they are generally in the 15-20 year range. What actually happened was a plea bargain for the lesser crime of manslaughter (basically, an unintentional killing), for which a 1 year sentence is not uncommon. Manslaughter has varying degrees, the least of which is essentially pure accident. Depending on the level, the sentence can and should be very light.

You may think that's ridiculous, and it very well may be, but perhaps the DA didn't think he could close the deal on a murder charge, and so was willing bargain it down to something. Is it better that he be considered guilty with a slap on the wrist, or that he be considered innocent? That, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) happens a lot.

It's easy to twist things so they fit your personal views, but the fact is people who go the full trial period and are convicted typically get the highest sentences. People who plea down typically get the lowest. It's just a fact of life in the system. Chances are Childs had the opportunity to plea down to a lesser crime and get out with time served, but he more than likely felt that the gains for such a bargain would be minimal, and he could still potentially win the whole thing if he saw the trial through to the end. That's how I would view things if I were him, anyway.

Re:Bad Headline... TFA not much better. (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267850)

The only thing I can really get behind in the article is the fact that Childs was in jail for two years before his trial began. That sounds very much like a violation of his right to a speedy trial to me.

Childs undoubtedly waived his right to a speedy trial, like many, many criminal defendants do (and like Kevin Mitnick did, on multiple occasions, all the while dishonestly claiming that he was being denied his right to a speedy trial).

Re:Bad Headline... TFA not much better. (1)

Dumnezeu (1673634) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267848)

Yes, the headline is a bit long. It should have said "San Francisco Just As Guilty In Childs Case"

So What???? (3, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267968)

for any crime, you can just about always find someone who committed a greater crime and received a lesser sentence. So what?

What do you mean "so what"?

First there's the question of precedent [wikipedia.org] .

Second there's the question of just punishment [usconstitution.net]

Wah (0, Flamebait)

jewishbaconzombies (1861376) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267360)

I don't like the way my company is run. I'm going to rob them - because it's justified in my fucked-up imagination.

Rot in jail asshole.

That May Be True But... (4, Insightful)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267370)

Sure, the SF IT department may be getting managed into the ground. Sure, maybe the city is as much to blame for everything as Childs is. But none of that matters now, does it? Nobody is going to file a case against SF city. Nobody is going to punish the SF IT department. Nah, the city will get to walk away scott free, continuing to practice poor procedures. All the wild, Childs has to live with his sentence as a convenient scapegoat. This case just serves a little more proof the the justice system, on all levels in this country (at least if you live in California) is completely FUBAR.

Re:That May Be True But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267632)

s/wild/while

I think geeks are confused (4, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267972)

While the city may have a shitty IT setup, is that illegal? Probably not. However what Childs did WAS illegal.

That is the difference. I know that some geek types seem to think the law should be whatever strikes them personally as fair but that isn't how it works. Childs broke the law, he was tried and convicted of it (and one of his jurors had a CCIE so none of this "stupid jury" bullshit).

If the city is being negligent then a lawsuit can, and should, be brought against them. None of that makes what Childs did right or legal.

Please, please would all Slashdot posters go and READ UP ON THE CASE before posting. The facts please, not the opinions form mother Slashdotters. So much uninformed kneejerk here. Slashdot itself had some good links, including one to an interview with aforementioned CCIE juror. How are you any better than the people you like to look down upon if you cannot be bothered to get your facts straight for something you have strong emotions about?

History of the World (4, Insightful)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267390)

Plenty of dirty laundry was aired out in court as well, yet through it all, the city has had a full-court press on Childs, and being both the plaintiff and the prosecution it spared no expense to drill Childs into the ground.

It's good to be the king.

More than one person to blame -- that's unamerican (5, Insightful)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267404)

Wow, a nuanced view of the problems.

Before this post gets modded as a troll or flamebait, it is my humble and sincere view as someone born and raised outside the USA, that Americans are often obsessed by finding a single cause for a problem and the idea that there might be multiple causes is rarely explored.

Re:More than one person to blame -- that's unameri (5, Insightful)

Yaa 101 (664725) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267458)

The problem lies in that most US people seem to equal justice with revenge.

Re:More than one person to blame -- that's unameri (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267768)

I think idiots worldwide seem to equal justice with revenge. It's just that in the USA it is hard to avoid these people. They flaunt themselves in public and on TV. There is no stigma to being an idiot in the USA, outside of academic circles. It's encouraged.

Re:More than one person to blame -- that's unameri (4, Interesting)

eleuthero (812560) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267486)

...that Americans are often obsessed by finding a single cause for a problem and the idea that there might be multiple causes is rarely explored.

I would suggest it isn't so much an "American" trait as it is a convenient news tactic in America. People naturally want answers to questions. The neater and tighter the answer, the more readily it is accepted by the masses, which, of course, means that the news makes more money because they are more trusted. Simplicity is a hallmark of human (not just American) thinking - this takes different forms in different cultures. The main Western logical process is distinct from Eastern varieties but simplicity within the given culture is the tendency. Looking at modern history books covering the Renaissance and comparing them with 19th century history books of the same, we have a much broader viewpoint than those writing in the 1800s had. This is in part due to different access to resources, but in part due to the development of thought over time away from the natural reaction: Simplicity.

Now, with all that said, this is only... one facet of the change in thought patterns over the past century.

Re:More than one person to blame -- that's unameri (2, Insightful)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267514)

Most Americans I've met are actually very rational people who are willing to consider others' viewpoints. It's not until you get into the court and political systems that things start to fall apart.

Re:More than one person to blame -- that's unameri (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267532)

I'm not against a nuanced view of a problem, but I don't think this article actually is that.

It's more like the equivalent of grounding your kid for two weeks for shoplifting and having to hear about how all his friends got punished less for stealing bigger things. It's more a misdirection than a thoughtful examination of the issue at hand.

That's not to say that I'm advocating for what happens to Childs as fair/appropriate, incidentally -- only that I think this article makes a very weak argument against it.

Re:More than one person to blame -- that's unameri (5, Insightful)

Grygus (1143095) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267962)

You mean kind of like how a lot of non-Americans like to find the property of "being an American" as somehow intrinsically to blame in so many situations?

All people need to simplify. You will never understand everything, so you research carefully the things that interest you, and everything else needs to be ignored or fit into a bite-sized piece of intellectualism that you don't need to give any thought to. Nationality has nothing to do with it.

boycott SF (1)

dltaylor (7510) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267430)

We may not be able to bring any sense of "justice" to this act, but there should never be another computer-related event in San Francisco, and anyone with any sense of what really happened to Childs (regardless of his own aggravation of the incident) should also boycott the city.

The slightly smaller number of tourist and convention dollars will take decades to balance the scales, but it's worth a try.

Re:boycott SF (1)

jewishbaconzombies (1861376) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267466)

Boycotts of one don't count - particularly since you can't afford to go - let alone stay - in San Francisco anyway.

But keep catching those rainbows and reaching for the stars. Perhaps you can boycott NYC next.

Re:boycott SF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267502)

I suspect it won't be tthe tourist and convention dollars, which won't stop irregardless, but those who in IT work for any goverment in Cali. If I did I'd be getting me a lawyer, contacting the companies legal department for HARD COPY states of rules and regulations and then following them. You want the password please follow the procedure you outlined and I will be happy to let you fsck yourself and the company.

One law - Watch thine Bum

Heavy sentence? (1)

Caerdwyn (829058) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267454)

So here's a question. If people are concerned about the magnitude of the sentence, what's the REAL problem? Some people say "others got light sentences so he should too"... I would ask "is the real problem that others' sentences were too light and this is the first time the punishment fit the crime?"

Now, whether Childs is actually guilty of a crime is another matter. I wasn't in the jury; neither was anyone else here. We don't have all the facts, and the facts we ARE seeing are carefully picked by people with an (understandable) bias. A jury has convicted him of essentially holding a city's IT infrastructure hostage, and if he is in fact guilty of that, probation or "time served" is inadequate. If he's guilty, I believe the sentence is wholly appropriate, and may even be on the light side. If he was, in fact, concerned about IT security, he certainly bungled how he handled it and certainly forced a lot of spending, but would be lacking the "guilty mind" that the law requires for a conviction of this sort.

What it all comes down to is intention. If he intended something malicious, the sentence is entirely appropriate. If he did not, he should not serve any prison at all. There's really not a lot of room for gray areas here.

As for the City of San Francisco being "as guilty"... well, yeah. Maybe someone should be sharing a cell with Childs. That's a separate matter, though. If Childs was malicious, it doesn't let him off the hook. And if Childs wasn't malicious, it doesn't excuse how he handled it. The smart play would have been to immediately give the passwords (and the reason for holding them, as well as the modems) to the FBI and then let the city and feds slug it out. The fact that he did nothing of the sort is probably what convinced the jury that there was malice, and therefore the "guilty mind". Whatever else Childs may or may not be, he handled this whole thing like an idiot.

Re:Heavy sentence? (1)

Haffner (1349071) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267680)

What it all comes down to is intention. If he intended something malicious, the sentence is entirely appropriate. If he did not, he should not serve any prison at all. There's really not a lot of room for gray areas here.

Incorrect. You are talking about two separate crimes here: a crime that occurred, and a crime that may or may not have been intended to occur, but did not. The former he should be tried for, and convicted of, and punished appropriately. The latter is conspiracy to commit a different crime - conspiracy is a criminal charge, which he could be tried and punished for. This is what keeps punishments appropriate for crimes; if I try to burn down your house but only succeed in breaking into your garage, I deserve to be punished for 1) damage to property, 2) breaking and entering, and 3) conspiracy to commit arson. NOT 1) 2) and 3) arson. You are implying the latter is what should take place, and that is incorrect.

Re:Heavy sentence? (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267904)

A jury has convicted him of essentially holding a city's IT infrastructure hostage, and if he is in fact guilty of that, probation or "time served" is inadequate. If he's guilty, I believe the sentence is wholly appropriate, and may even be on the light side. If he was, in fact, concerned about IT security, he certainly bungled how he handled it and certainly forced a lot of spending, but would be lacking the "guilty mind" that the law requires for a conviction of this sort.

There isn't really any point in saying "if he's guilty" any more. The prosecution successfully proved beyond any reasonable doubt to a jury of his peers (at least one of whom was a well trained IT network professional) that he is guilty of violating California's denial of service attack law. There is still that slim chance that is impossible to completely rule out, but that's why we prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt - because proving guilt beyond all doubt is impossible.

No, he's definitely guilty.

Frankly, the article didn't give any evidence at all that the city of San Francisco was guilty of anything, let alone "as guilty" as Childs is. All the author did was make a nonsense argument that if it had been a private company the sentence would have been much lighter. He then lists several cases that were not prosecuted under California's denial of service attack laws. What the hell is that supposed prove? He's comparing apples and oranges, first, then apples and carrots (when he compares a trial that went to conviction to a plea bargained murder/manslaughter case).

The only thing I agree with the author on is the 2 years Childs spent in prison before the trial, that is absolutely ridiculous. Frankly, if Childs does any kind of appeal, I think it should be on the grounds that the state violated his right to a speedy trial. Two years in prison is unacceptable. They should have enough evidence in hand before making an arrest that it shouldn't be but a few months, max, for a trial to commence. His initial arrest was also essentially a coercion to get the passwords out of him. I'm not sure he had been charged with anything at that point (I may be wrong), but that sounds iffy to me as well.

No one should be in prison for years waiting for their trial. That's absurd.

The rest of the article was complete junk, though.

Why the sympathy?? (2, Insightful)

bhartman34 (886109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267456)

Lots of people have to work under supervisors who are total idiots. That doesn't give anyone the right to sabotage their supervisor or their company. What he did was basically blackmail: "Let me talk ot the mayor or I'll keep you locked out of your network." You can't let the guy off easy just because he happened to be harmless. Next time, you might not be so lucky.

Re:Why the sympathy?? (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267592)

Lots of people have to work under supervisors who are total idiots. That doesn't give anyone the right to sabotage their supervisor or their company. What he did was basically blackmail: "Let me talk ot the mayor or I'll keep you locked out of your network." You can't let the guy off easy just because he happened to be harmless. Next time, you might not be so lucky.

True, but at the same time there's no need to throw him jail now, is there?

Re:Why the sympathy?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267820)

why so the next guy can say "well thats not fair, terry got off with no jail time wine"

Re:Why the sympathy?? (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267620)

It is true, but do you think that he deserved this harsh punishment for what.....some interpersonal disagreements!!! What will be next, death sentence for posting funny pictures of your boss?

No sympathy here! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33267792)

It is NOT your duty or place to punish your employer for their actions. If you don't agree you shut the hell up, do what you are told, and document it if it's questionable - but YOU do NOT ask the questions! The ONLY people your employer has to answer to are the STOCKHOLDERS and the LAW. *NOT YOU*. So get over yourself, shut the fuck up, do what you're told, and don't ask questions or make comments. If you don't like it, you are more than welcome to find a job somewhere else.

Re:Why the sympathy?? (3, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267902)

Because we have more than a couple of Terry Childs like people on Slashdot. You may notice that there are a fair number of posters here who are quite anti-social, and anti-authority. You also many notice that they think their technical skill makes them much smarter than everyone else. This tends to lead to a mentality of "My boss is an idiot and I should be the only one who makes any decisions on the computers." Maybe they've even forced that in their work. So they are sympathetic because it is the kind of thing they either want to do or have done, and they are worried that they might get in trouble.

Basically they are like him, and thus that makes them feel that his actions were correct.

Run Away! (3, Informative)

jasenj1 (575309) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267482)

FTA: "When faced with dangerously incompetent management, it's best to just look for another job."

I found this a very telling statement. If your management are bozos, don't try to change them or point out their bozo-ness. Just pack up and move on. They hold all the cards. You will be punished for trying to fix anything that makes them look bad.

How very sad and defeatist.

- Jasen.

Re:Run Away! (1)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267664)

I found this a very telling statement. If your management are bozos, don't try to change them or point out their bozo-ness. Just pack up and move on. They hold all the cards. You will be punished for trying to fix anything that makes them look bad.

The question I'd put to you in response is: have you ever had a job where your managers were not only bozos, but the kind of bozos who would attempt to blame you when things inevitably went wrong?

I have, and you know? I can play that office-political game well enough. I know when my good advice won't be heeded, and I know to make sure I have my clear, polite, lucid warnings in writing along with management overriding them in writing such that I can clearly, unambiguously prove to my boss's boss what really happened when the decision goes south.

The thing is this, though: if you don't enjoy office politics (and I've yet to meet a truly technical person who did), having to work that way is draining. Instead of giving full focus to the technical challenges of your day, you're splitting half your attention to making sure your ass is covered. Even when I won (and I usually won), I still really lost because I hated my job. When something goes wrong, I don't want to be placing or deflecting blame, I want to be solving the damn problem.

Some companies work that way, and some don't. The only way to win some games is not to play, or in this case, to look for a new job.

Re:Run Away! (1)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267832)

FTA: "When faced with dangerously incompetent management, it's best to just look for another job."

I found this a very telling statement. If your management are bozos, don't try to change them or point out their bozo-ness. Just pack up and move on. They hold all the cards. You will be punished for trying to fix anything that makes them look bad.

How very sad and defeatist.

- Jasen.

Very sad, very defeatist, and usually, very, very true.

Making the point, winning the battle, etc, will all cause you to lose the war. People in positions of power tend to enjoy appearing as though they deserve to be there. Demonstrate the opposite and watch your life become more difficult.

Back to Childs, well, unfortunately he chose the high road. Civil disobedience carries a punitive cost, and it seems he'll be paying a while longer. The rest of us elect instead self-preservation, whether that be to feed our kids or to simply make our lives more comfortable.

Time will tell which choice was 'best'. Meanwhile, God's speed to you, Mr Childs, and I hope your sentence flies by...

Yet another "There oughta be a law" rant (3, Interesting)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267536)

Well, guess what. No matter how much you may think it, generalized poor management is not actually a criminal offense. Whereas, denial of service is.

Justice is not about fairness. It's "did you break the law, and if so what's the stated punishment?"

Was the ordinance used to convict him fair and reasonably applied? The only opinion that matters is the jury's, and they thought it so.

IMHO, Childs may have started out with the best of intentions in his "stand", but it escalated into a pissing match. And you really can't out-piss senior municipal managers and politicians, so you can indict Childs for picking a losing fight.

Re:Yet another "There oughta be a law" rant (3, Insightful)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267838)

Justice is not about fairness. It's "did you break the law, and if so what's the stated punishment?"

No. That isn't justice. Justice IS about fairness. Justice comes first, and laws are supposed to support justice.

If all you have is a set of laws and the stated punishment for breaking them, all you have is the worst kind of bureaucracy. Assuming that laws are always right is one of the worst things you can do.

Typically, laws are not based of facts or rational arguments. They are based on which direction the politics of the day is blowing.

Laws are written by lawyers and lobbyists for benefit the few and powerful, enacted by legislators who do not read them before voting, and enforced by prosecutors who only care about their conviction ratio.

Every good nerd knows that justice can never be as simple as a rulebook.

Custodial sentences for non violent crimes (4, Interesting)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267576)

The Economist ripped the US a new one [economist.com] last week for locking up too many people, many of them non violent offences. It wasn't so long ago that people were hanged for stealing a loaf of bread, but we backed off from excess punishment (probably a little too far in some cases). But the United States the trend seems to be regressing thanks to grandstanding politicians and bloodthirsty voters who won't countenance even the slightest hint of being "soft on crime". With the way things are going, I truly think that the US will soon bring back public executions before long and will be indistinguishable from countries like Iran in how they deal with crime.

Re:Custodial sentences for non violent crimes (2, Interesting)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 3 years ago | (#33267708)

There are about 2.5 million prisoners. With this new blood-thirsty voters, i wonder what will happen when they become 25 millions? My guess is civil war, lol.
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