In Technology Era, Rogue IT Threatens Governments

Today an employee of the San Francisco Department of Technology awaits his arraignment while information technology workers try valiantly to gain access to the new network of computers that keep the city humming.

Terry Childs, a disgruntled city employee gave himself sole access to the city’s new fiber wide area network, and wouldn’t divulge his password to police even after being threatened with arrest. City officials and other IT administrators are still locked out, and are worried that Childs ordered the destruction of documents on the network as detailed in the San Francisco Chronicle web site.

Childs is being charged with a variety of felonies for tampering with the network, but until he’s appeased or people figure out a way in, the city is stymied. This situation reminds me of the one that developed between Robotics Parking and the city of Hoboken, N.J. in 2006. The city’s parking authority built a robotic parking garage, but when the provider increased the annual license fees for the software operating the robotic garage by 20 percent, the city refused to pay.

So the garage stopped working, trapping the cars of whomever happened to be parked there that day. The cars were eventually returned, but a judge ruled that Hoboken either had to pay the fee or get a new company and software in order to operate the garage.

The point? The city’s network problem is a nice reminder of how the knowledge of a few key people has the potential to grind a city’s (or any entities’) operations to a halt if not properly managed. And as technology influences more and more aspects of municipal life, government officials might find themselves more often at the mercy of technology purveyors.