It's called elite panic, and it's extremely dangerous.
The people in the world with real power--kings and princes, billionaires and CEOs--spend their lives worrying that the people that they took power from, and hold power over, are going to rise up and take that power back. That's how elites get power in the first place: by taking it from others. They naturally assume that everyone else is trying to do the same thing. They also spend their lives making sure this doesn't happen.
As long as the elites feel secure, you don't notice this so much, but when they feel threatened--or worse, humiliated--they panic, and go on a rampage. People go to prison. People die.
It used to be that power came from control of croplands. After the industrial revolution, power came from control of mines and factories. This suited the elites. They could enforce their control with armies and police.
Today, significant power comes from control of computers. But you can't control computers with armies and police. You can control the hardware--lock the server rooms, take the computers off-line--but that doesn't get you what you need. What you need is running systems, and that needs programmers and sys admins. All those people walk out the door every night, and unless they come back in the morning, your hardware is pretty much useless. You don't have control of the computers.
This change crept up on the elites while they weren't watching. (CEOs don't pay attention to computers. That's operations, right? That why I hired a COO, right?) So everything just rolls along from year to year and decade to decade, until a Randal Schwartz or a Terry Childs comes along, and the elites realize that they don't have control, and they panic, and then they crucify the object of their panic.
The Forbes article assumes that Childs withheld passwords in a bid for job security, which is absurd. Slackers and grifters don't face down police officers and go to prison on principle. They hand over the passwords and move on to their next scam.
Many of the Slashdot comments argue that withholding passwords is a kind of office theft, like stealing the keys to the safe. That's a fair analogy for explaining what a password is, but not really on point for the issues raised by this case.
The actual conviction was for disruption/denial of computer services, which is overblown, at best. The city of San Fransisco got control of their computers, with only minor inconvenience and substantially no loss of service.
My guess is that Childs suffers from some variety of asperger's, or paranoia, or obsessive-compulsive, or the like. The proximate reason that he is in prison is that this disorder--whatever it is--caused him to stumble into the maw of the legal system.
The ultimate reason that Childs is in prison is that he was the object of panic--the person in view--when one of the elites looked up and realized that they weren't in control of their computer systems. So they crucified him.