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Alleged North Korean Sony Pictures hack a lesson in corporate decency

Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of North Korea Credit: Photo: Michael Donovan

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. Sony Pictures produces a silly [some might call it stupid] movie about a plot to assassinate the ruler of North Korea. Said ruler, who enjoys a reputation for ruthlessness and instability, is understandably miffed. His country announces that it considers the movie “an act of war” and hackers — presumably North Korean but possibly Chinese — launch a cyberattack and proceed to steal a massive number of Sony documents which they promptly share with the rest of the universe.

Resultant threats about showing the movie abound. The damage done to Sony is considerable — sufficient to cause the company to postpone and possibly withdraw the movie’s release. It’s unclear who blinked first — Sony or the movie theatres that have a certain skittishness about showing a flick that is the focus of such controversy.

The U.S. responds in righteous indignation. The White House press secretary terms the hacking a “matter of national security.” Hollywood minions — after Sony decides to sack the showing of the movie, lament what they perceive as Sony’s failure to take a stand for “artistic freedom” and “creative expression.”

The media, however, tries to outdo everyone else in outrage. Wolf Blitzer and CNN News ponder solemnly whether a military response might be one of the options the White House ought to consider, while the normally balanced and unexcitable New York Times editorializes that Sony’s decision not to release the film “sends a signal to Mr. Kim and other criminals that they can succeed in extortion if they are creative and devious enough.”

Two questions seem appropriate for consideration. Why was similar media outrage not expressed when one of our countrymen hacked classified material from the computer files of the U.S. National Security Agency and proceeded to share them with the rest of the known world? The American hacker is celebrated by the American media as a true patriot. What makes the North Korean [or Chinese or whomever] hackers any less patriotic? What, in fact, makes a hacker a patriot in one situation and a thug in another?

The second query goes to the heart of what seems to be an excessive amount of judgmental immaturity in our time. North Korea is one of a dozen nations that possesses a nuclear weaponry arsenal. The rest of the world thinks it’s not very sophisticated, but the rest of the world really doesn’t know how big or how capable the North Korean arsenal is.

What we do know is that North Korea suffers from a deep-seated paranoia that extends back to its military clash with the U.S. almost seventy years ago. That paranoia is symbolized by its current leader who, even at home, apparently has not hesitated, when a suspicion of disloyalty arose, to do away with his own uncle.

Paranoia and a nuclear arsenal make for a dangerous combination in dealing with any nation-state. Isn’t making a movie suggesting that assassination is a possible response in dealing with the leader of a rogue country — even if humorously made — the equivalent of poking an artistic stick in a political hornet’s nest? When are some matters — even if designed to be funny — simply beyond the realm of good sense?

Good sense is something we expect individuals to display; we don’t normally expect such a human virtue to be manifest by a corporation. But as the U.S. Supreme Court — in its dubious wisdom — attributes more and more human characteristics to corporate entities when they are viewed by the law, perhaps it’s not asking too much to expect that corporations would display some common sense as well.

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