- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Congress is expected to exit this week without passing legislation to combat cyberattacks like the one against Sony Pictures Entertainment, now grappling with a terrorist threat in addition to thousands of hacked emails and documents.

An email Tuesday from hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace hints that there will be attacks at theaters timed to the release of “The Interview,” a Sony comedy opening Dec. 25 that depicts two bumbling journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places ‘The Interview’ [will] be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to,” says the note, posted on a number of news websites. “The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001.”

The Department of Homeland Security released a statement downplaying the threat, saying, “We are still analyzing the credibility of these statements, but at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States.”

The latest missive from the hackers comes with the 113th Congress poised to adjourn Friday without Senate action on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014, or CISA, this session’s strongest legislation aimed at fighting cyberattacks.

“Sadly, while Sony was scrambling to contain the damage from the hack, Congress was punting — again — on a bill to permit that sort of information sharing, which has been held up by privacy concerns,” said the Los Angeles Times in a Monday editorial. “Such a law might not have protected Sony against the Guardians of Peace, but it could help the next victim.”

SEE ALSO: Sony’s Obama emails spotlight ‘white liberal hypocrisy,’ says Juan Williams

The bill, aimed at thwarting cyberthreats by promoting data-sharing on hacking between the public and private sectors, was approved 12-3 in July by the Senate Intelligence Committee, but never made it to the Senate floor. The measure was sponsored by committee chair Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and vice-chair Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican.

As recently as October, Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Chambliss had said they were optimistic about the bill’s chances, which has the strong support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many top industries.

The House passed a cybersecurity bill in 2013, and House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers was expected to help move the bills through conference committee.

“CISA would promote business security and resilience against cyberattacks, including rogue hackers, sophisticated criminal groups, and foreign powers or their proxies,” said a Dec. 2 statement from the chamber and other business advocacy groups.

The bill had addressed some of the sticking points with previous cybersecurity legislation by making the information exchange voluntary and including “significant measures to protect private information,” Mrs. Feinstein said in a statement.

But the legislation was staunchly opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as online and privacy groups, who argued that it would risk giving government access to personal data.

“The bill would create a massive loophole in our existing privacy laws by allowing the government to ask companies for ‘voluntary’ cooperation in sharing information, including the content of our communications, for cybersecurity purposes,” said ACLU attorney Sandra Fulton in a June 28 article.

“But the definition they are using for the so-called ‘cybersecurity information’ is so broad it could sweep up huge amounts of innocent Americans’ personal data,” she said.

The bill was also opposed by the hacktivist group Anonymous, which had threatened Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Chambliss in videos posted on YouTube in June.

“Every action you perform, every word you say, we will know. If you value the sanctity of your loved ones as well as your own, it will be best for you to back down and drop this bill where it belongs: Out of our Congress,” says one video. “If not, we will be forced to show you our legion’s extent.”

Tuesday’s email from the Guardians of Peace arrives after the release of thousands of emails embarrassing to Sony executives, as well as scripts, budgets and the Social Security numbers of some 47,000 current and former employees. The FBI is investigating the leaks.

Speculation is widespread that the leaks are the product of hackers working on behalf of the North Korean government, although officials have denied this.

Two ex-employees filed a lawsuit Monday against Sony, alleging that the company failed to update its security measures despite “weaknesses that it has known about for years, because Sony made a ‘business decision to accept the risk’ of losses associated with being hacked,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The movie’s stars, James Franco and Seth Rogen, cancelled Tuesday all public appearances to promote the film, according to BuzzFeed.

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