A reader compares the Sony hacking to this year’s sexting hacks:
I was a Sony Pictures employee up until two months ago. I worked as a television producer on the Sony lot for the previous two years. On a daily basis, I passed by Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton and the others whose private emails have now been leaked (contrary to Michelle Dean’s disdain that they’re just “big fancy business people,” they’re actually very cool, approachable people), and I have been warned that my private information has very likely been leaked as well – as have any present and former Sony Pictures employees going as far back as 1995. (!)
Let’s first remember what this hack is about: Private documents and emails were illegally stolen and leaked to the public, with more leaks threatened, in order to blackmail Sony out of releasing a film – they have specifically demanded that Sony not release “The Interview.” Put another way, foreign hackers are blackmailing Americans out of exercising their First Amendment rights. And now the media outlets that continue to print the salacious details revealed in these stolen documents are complicit in that blackmail scheme, having given the leaked information the damaging attention that the hackers wanted. The media crossed the line when the reporting shifted from the story of the hack itself and the criminal investigation, to printing every salacious email they could find.
This is not a Snowden leak where it can be argued that this is information about our government that is vital to American citizens. As Sorkin pointed out, these hacks reveal no laws broken by Sony. So this is nothing more than sleazy tabloid journalism using documents stolen by criminals. It is the complete lack of ethics of The Fappening all over again. It doesn’t matter how we got the information, there’s page-views to get! Is this the norm now?
And the worst part is, in the few stories that I’ve read on this, I have seen nothing that would shock anyone in the entertainment industry: Film executives and producers talk bluntly about scripts and actors and personalities because that is the business that they are in. They have to be both passionate and direct, or they aren’t doing their jobs.
Let’s flip the script, so to speak: All of your personal information, emails, your employees’ medical records, payrolls, etc. are leaked by foreign hackers, who threaten to release more if you publish a controversial story. The FBI is investigating. How would you feel about all of your fellow bloggers printing every salacious, taken-out-of-context detail of every email you’ve sent for the past 20 years, making it front page news every day for three straight weeks, and counting? Would you really blame YOURSELF?
To answer the reader’s last question first: I would, at least a tiny bit. But then I’m the self-lacerating sort. And I also tend to see things in questions of degrees.
Of course I would be unhappy to see journalists publish people’s unredacted medical records and social security numbers, which I would agree are analogous to the sext leaks of early September. And I completely sympathize with the panic employees caught up in this mess might feel about that. As far as I know, no one has yet printed things like that but it’s not much comfort.
My point was more limited than this reader imagines. I was simply pointing out that business executives do not have a clear-cut expectation of complete privacy in emails that related to business negotiations and transactions. That goes for the “cool, approachable” executives, too. Business people are regularly called onto the carpet by their lawyers and shareholders to account for their actions in managing the company. It’s just part of the deal along with the rich severance payout.
Is that an abridgement of their First Amendment rights? I’m not so sure. I think it’s just about being a responsible executive.
These emails may not show “illegal” activity per se, in that nothing in them hints at criminality. But they do have the potential to incur big costs for the company in later disputes and litigation. And shareholders do, by the way, have some interest in knowing how the company’s management behaves. The public interest here may not be as clear-cut as in the Snowden matter but these aren’t simply “private” matters. And as an experienced big fancy business person (I think she can survive a tongue-in-cheek remark), I’m sure Pascal knows that intimately.
Update from a reader:
Michelle Dean was right to feel sorry for the in-house counsel at Sony who has tried to prevent everyone there from sending sensitive e-mails – clearly, the message hasn’t gotten through there based on that note from a former Sony employee. News flash to everyone in the US: your company, not you, owns your e-mails! When you hit “delete” on an e-mail, it means “saved forever on a server and/or hard drive somewhere”. Anyone in this day and age who thinks they have any expectation of privacy in any e-mail exchange is sorely mistaken.
When you communicate by e-mail, it feels like a conversation, but it’s like etching something into stone. I tell everyone at my company that for any e-mail you write, imagine seeing it blown up on a giant screen in courtroom somewhere, and you having to explain what you meant by it. I’ve sat through that exact scenario hundreds of times, and have seen offhand e-mails written in the middle of the night create hundreds of millions of dollars in liability for a company, and countless deposition and trial time being spent talking about one or two sentence e-mails. I’ve also seen sexually explicit e-mails (and photos/videos) that would make anyone blush, and these have been viewed and discussed in open court.
I also don’t understand the reference to “First Amendment Rights” by the former Sony employee. Where is the US government involved in stopping anyone at Sony from saying anything? The authorities should go after whoever hacked into the system, and convict them of a crime if they can be caught, but the people who wrote these e-mails assumed the risk when they decided to write an e-mail instead of picking up the phone (or walking down the hall). With everything that’s happened the last few years, including Snapchat hacks etc., it’s amazing to me that people are still surprised when their e-mails get exposed for the world to see.
Forward thinking companies are automatically deleting all e-mails after a short period of time (i.e., 90 days), both to save storage money and to avoid situations like this. Microsoft was at the forefront of this, and has been extremely pleased with the results. Sony (and all of the other studios) may want to consider a similar policy, which would have avoided most of the most embarrassing leaks.