By now, you've probably heard that Terry Childs was sentenced to four years in prison, as a jury determined that he violated a California statute regarding denial-of-service attacks. Childs has already spent more than two years in jail at this point, so it's likely that he will serve four to eight more months before being released, but there's no guarantee of that.
No matter how you feel about this matter, it should be clear that this sentence is unduly harsh, and the amount of time Childs spent in jail before the conviction is appalling. The wheels of justice turn slowly indeed.
There were several factors in this case that led jurors to convict Childs, but the most significant issue to me is that the San Francisco FiberWAN network that he administered suffered no outages or problems during the course of this bizarre case, with the exception of the VPN outage that occurred when the San Francisco DA's office inexplicably placed a list of active usernames and passwords into the public record, resulting in downtime to change all those passwords. Yes, Childs withheld the network's passwords in an apparent dispute with his boss, but no actual damage was done.
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, 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.
Or consider the case of Yung-Hsun Lin, convicted in 2008 of attempting to destroy a critical database owned by his New Jersey-based employer, Medco Health Systems. Lin wrote code explicitly designed to destroy the database and set it to trigger on his birthday. It failed to run and was subsequently discovered by another admin. Lin received a 30-month sentence for his actions, as he deliberately and painstakingly attempted to sabotage the company he worked for, intentionally writing scripts to destroy valuable data.
If we drift outside of the IT realm, I could add story after story of murder, attempted murder, and rape sentences that are far less than the four years that Childs' received. A recent example might be found in Oklahoma, where a man received a one-year sentence for murder.
But what's done is done, and subsequent motions for retrial have been denied. Presumably, this case will come around again on appeal.
Poorly Managed San Francisco IT Department Gets a Free Pass
Also galling to me is the fact that the City of San Francisco has absolutely refused to admit any responsibility for this whole mess. The city 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. 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.
Given the nature of this case, the facts as I know them, and the rest of the data surrounding this incident, I can see how Childs might have been convicted by a largely nontechnical jury. But let's face it: if the City of San Francisco was doing anything right, this never would have happened -- and if it somehow did, the case should have been able to be resolved internally, not in a courtroom. I stand by my remarks over the past few years that if this same scenario played out in a company rather than a city IT department, we'd have never heard of it, and the most probable outcome may have been termination of employment.
Instead, Terry Childs is entering his third year in jail. It's probably safe to say that the point has been made by now: When faced with dangerously incompetent management, it's best to just look for another job.
This story, "The Terry Childs case: San Francisco is just as guilty," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com.
This story, "The Terry Childs Case: Sad, Unfair and a Bad Precedent" was originally published by InfoWorld.