A San Francisco Superior Court judge today refused to reduce bail for a former city employee accused of tampering with San Francisco’s main computer network.
Despite another judge’s ruling 10 days ago dismissing three of the four charges against Terry Childs, a former San Francisco Department of Technology network engineer, Judge Charles Haines today denied a motion by Childs’ attorney to reduce his bail from $5 million. “The motion is denied,” Haines said without elaboration, after defense attorney Richard Shikman argued his client was not a threat to the city or a flight risk.
Childs, 44, of Pittsburg, has been jailed since last July. Prosecutors alleged Childs, who had been in charge of implementing the new FiberWAN network for the city, took control of the system, setting up his own passwords and denying access to other network administrators. They also contended Childs installed devices on the network that could have caused a full system failure if power were to be shut down. The network handles about 60 percent of the city’s computer traffic, and is used by several vital city departments, including some police services, payroll and email.
Childs was originally charged with four felony counts of computer network tampering.
Judge Kevin McCarthy on Aug. 21 dismissed three of the counts, related to allegations that Childs improperly connected three modems to the network, for lack of evidence, but allowed the fourth count for Childs’ alleged refusal to give over the passwords to the network to his supervisors and police.
Shikman has repeatedly argued that Childs never intended to harm the system, and that no city services were actually disrupted. Administrators later regained access to the system after Childs gave up the passwords to Mayor Gavin Newsom, who visited him in his jail cell.
Shikman today accused prosecutors of “fear mongering.” He said the three charges that had been dismissed related “to the implausible notion that there’s a threat.”
“It’s totally speculative that he’s going to hurt the city,” Shikman said.
Arguing that Childs would not flee if bail were reduced and he were released on his own recognizance, Shikman said, “He’s the most famous network engineer in the country. Do you know how many blogs are following this case?”
Prosecutor Conrad Del Rosario said Childs engaged in a “pattern and practice … of putting devices on the network that were unknown to anyone.” He added that “additional vulnerabilities” in the FiberWAN system were discovered as late as March of this year.
Del Rosario said that the city spent $750,000 trying to regain control of the network, and more than $1 million more doing vulnerability testing.
“He had engineered the entire system without following any type of protocol” mandated by the Department of Technology, Del Rosario said. “We don’t know what’s in there,” Del Rosario said. “Who knows what’s in there?” Shikman acknowledged. “But whatever’s in there, you could guarantee they’d use it against him,” he said, referring to prosecutors.
“It’s like the Salem witch trials,” Shikman complained. “Burn him, is the attitude of the prosecutor.”
Childs is due back in court Sept. 30 for a pretrial hearing. A trial has tentatively been set to begin Oct. 9.
If convicted of the remaining charge, Childs could still face a maximum five-year prison sentence, according to Del Rosario.