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Name: People v. Childs
Case #: A129583
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 10/25/2013

An employee who disrupts or denies his employer’s computer services may be charged with violating Penal Code section 502, subdivision (c)(5). Childs was the principal network engineer for the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS) for San Francisco. He was assigned to implement and administer the city’s new fiber optic network (Fiber-WAN) and became very possessive of this new network. Childs used his computer skills to take extreme measures to ensure that he was the only administrator who had access to the network and to wipe out system data if another person attempted to access the system. He refused to disclose passwords to city administration, resulting in DTIS being locked out of its network for a period of time and incurring costs for re-configuration and network recovery. A jury convicted Childs of disrupting the city’s network (Pen. Code, § 502, subd. (c)(5)). Childs claimed on appeal that section 502 only applies to computer hackers, not an employee who is an authorized user. Held: Affirmed. Subdivision (c)(5) of section 502 is unambiguous—it applies to those who have authorized access to computer networks. It does not contain any latent ambiguity as Childs claimed. Although four of the subdivisions of section 502 require unpermitted access as an element, the provision applied to Childs does not. This raises a strong inference that the Legislature intended the subdivisions not requiring unauthorized access “to apply to persons who gain lawful access to a computer but then abuse that access.” Further, the employment defense contained in subdivision (h)(1) does not shield employees from prosecution for committing disruptive acts that were not reasonably necessary to the employee’s work.