President Obama said at his year-end press conference that he would have told Sony not to cancel the Christmas release of The Interview, had the studio consulted him first.
“Sony’s a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced,” Obama said. “Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.”
“In this interconnected digital world, there are going to be opportunities for attackers to engage in cyber assaults, both in the private sector and the public sector,” he continued. “Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place.”
Obama said he long ago deployed a cyber-security interagency team “to look at everything that we could do at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks,” including “coordinating with the private sector.”
“But a lot more needs to be done. We’re not even close to where we need to be,” he said. “And, you know, one of the things in the new year that I hope Congress will is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.”
“But even as we get better, you know, the hackers are going to get better, too. Some of them are going to be state actors. Some of them are going to be non-state actors. All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage. We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.”
Canceling the movie after a hack from North Korea, he said, is “not who we are. That’s not what America is about.”
“Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities and this and that and the other. I wish they had spoken to me first. I would’ve told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks,’” Obama said. “Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks. And is that what it takes for suddenly, you to pull the plug on something?”
“So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry, the private sector around these issues. We already have. We will continue to do so. But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this. They’re going to be costly. They’re going to be serious. We take them with the utmost seriousness. But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm.”
The president was asked if he would watch The Interview in solidarity with the censored filmmakers.
“I’ve got a long list of movies I’m going to be watching,” Obama replied. “You know, I never release my full movie list. But let’s talk to the specifics of what we now know.”
“The FBI announced today that — and — and we confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack. I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco.”
That’s James Franco; Obama’s goof of the actor’s name sent “James Flacco” shooting to the top of Twitter trending topics.
“I love Seth. And I love — and I love James. But the notion that that was a threat to them, I think gives you some sense of — of the kind of regime we’re talking about here,” he continued. “They caused a lot of damage. And we will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose. It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.”
“More broadly, though, this points to the need for us to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates. Right now, it’s sort of the Wild West.”