America Must Stand Up To Cyberattacks
As a steady flow of information about the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures has been revealed, we have watched with shock and increasing concern as American lives and our values have been threatened by a narcissistic dictator. As the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, we don’t agree on every issue—but we are in complete agreement that our national response to this chilling threat must be clear and unequivocal, so that we continue to zealously protect our freedoms and principles, most notably the freedom of speech.
The F.B.I. has confirmed our suspicions that a group known as “The Guardians of Peace”—a front group for the North Korean government and its dictator, Kim Jong Un—hacked into Sony’s internal emails, released a trove of embarrassing and salacious communications, and divulged sensitive information about Sony employees because the North Korean government did not approve of its movie, The Interview. On December 16, the hackers escalated their cyber-war by threatening physical harm to those who intended to see the movie itself, which led to Sony initially canceling the release of the movie. However, Sony has now decided to release it to a limited number of theaters.
This is not the first time terrorist groups and foreign governments have used intimidation to attempt to destroy our freedoms and way of life. On the eve of World War II, the German government issued various threats to prevent Charlie Chaplin from directing and producing The Great Dictator, a thinly veiled satire of the antics and excesses of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Paramount Pictures ultimately released the movie to great popular and critical acclaim, both in the U.S. and abroad.
The 9/11 attacks were aimed at New York and Washington because the terrorists wanted to shut down our nation’s centers of finance and government. However, Americans stood unified and sent a clear and resolute signal that we would not be intimidated. Our nation’s airports quickly reopened, as did Wall Street and the Pentagon, and Congress continued to represent the will of the American people without pause.
The cyber-attacks and terror threats associated with The Interview represent the latest twist on earlier efforts at intimidation - the combination of the threat of physical violence with the use of the modern tools of cyber warfare and social media. A tyrant who severely oppresses his own people has used technology to both infiltrate a company and threaten physical harm to Americans who choose to watch a film that doesn’t meet his approval. Whether or not we like the plot, production, or tone of a creative product, each and every one of us has a stake in ensuring that our freedom of speech is not abridged by either our own government or by a foreign government.
The United States must stand firm against this type of aggressive attack on our freedom of speech. Otherwise these actions will have a chilling effect on the availability of information and creative works in the future and will embolden North Korea and other copycats to act again. We must not allow terrorists and foreign governments to dictate what Americans can or cannot say, watch, produce, or distribute.
Ultimately, this and other cyber-attacks point to the need for a robust national security apparatus, including strong cybersecurity, to protect Americans not just from bodily harm, but from threats aimed at restricting our freedoms. Congress and the Administration should work to ensure that we have in place the appropriate sanctions against North Korea and that we are using all available tools to combat attacks like this. The more we can do to detect and intercept threats from our enemies, the more we will be able to protect our cherished liberties.
The threat to Americans who wish to see this film is not the last time that thugs and tyrants will seek to challenge our character and our creativity. But we are united in our resolve to defend our freedoms against all threats, foreign and domestic. In the past, we have stood together—ignoring the petty and partisan differences that too often divide us. Again, we must stand together to send the strong message that the United States will never yield to those wishing to silence our freedoms.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.