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Sony’s missteps over ‘The Interview’ have served to embolden terrorists

There is more to Sony’s decision to cancel the Christmas Day opening of “The Interview” than caving into terror threats, though that is a clear and troubling aspect of this costly episode.

Many critics – and more than a few from within the entertainment industry – have slammed Sony, on the grounds that its decision to can the movie will encourage other terror threats. It’s a fair point, and a worrisome one. Had Sony stood up to the threat, it might have punctured that balloon.

But there is another side to that question: What if someone – related or not to the hackers who pierced Sony’s computer network – had launched an attack at a theater showing the film? (The scenario is not that far-fetched. A dozen people were massacred at a Colorado movie theater in 2012.) What if the hackers, as threatened, released private data, including medical information, about Sony employees?

Even the complaints about freedom of speech are misplaced. Freedom of speech protects Americans against government censorship. Sony is a private business, not the government, and has a right to release what it wants to when it wants to, according to its own judgment. That’s what freedom of speech provides: choice. It doesn’t require you to express yourself, but protects you from government retaliation if you do.

Still, it is a muddied set of circumstances that could, indeed, embolden others to try to dictate what movies or television shows or books can be offered to the public.

That’s where Sony can fairly be criticized. It is a massive organization that should have known enough to secure its internal network against intrusion, considering how many major corporations have been the victim of cyberattacks. Had it done so, this entire episode could have been avoided.

It is also fair to say that the movie itself should never have been made. Imagine American reaction to a foreign film whose premise was the assassination of a sitting president. But that’s what “The Interview” is – a comedy, of sorts, about an effort to assassinate North Korean President Kim Jong Un. That the man is, himself, more than a little nuts does nothing to justify the premise of the movie.

It was in radically bad taste. But that was a matter for Sony executives and moviegoers to determine, not North Korea, which the U.S. government has identified as the source of the cyberattack on Sony.

The questions now include what are big American corporations going to do to secure their businesses against cyberattacks and, just as important, what is Washington going to do, having now accused North Korea of an act of corporate sabotage?

President Obama made clear on Friday his own concerns about Sony’s decision to pull the movie and said the United States will respond to North Korea, though he was appropriately cagey about exactly how. In some fashion, a response is necessary.

The attack on Sony and its reaction has opened a can of worms that is likely to remain open for some time. With North Korea having exposed weaknesses in Sony’s cyber security and raised troubling issues all around, the critical thing is for governments and corporations to ensure, as best as possible, that a repeat of this episode is too difficult to bother attempting.