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Surfing the web in North Korea: Exposed

Posting in Government

In one of the world's most secretive and restrictive nations, what lengths to citizens go to in order to communicate online or through mobile technology?

The BBC reports that North Korea, currently under the rule of Kim Jong-un, has a rather interesting take on the regulation of the Internet. (..and the West complained that SOPA was bad). Whereas we take instant connectivity to the Internet for granted, North Koreans often risk their lives simply to use a mobile phone.

Access to the Internet -- a version highly regulated and run by North Korea's state-sponsored operating system Red Star -- is limited to an elite batch of citizens trusted with the tool. There's no Twitter or Facebook to see here, instead, a number of interesting quirks make sure North Koreans never forget their state responsibilities; including a piece of code on every page that automatically increases the font size of "Kim Jong-un" and former leaders to make them stand out.

There is only one cybercafe in the country's capital, Pyongyang. If you login, the date is not displayed as 2012, but 101 -- the number of years that has passed since the birth of former leader Kim Il-sung. North Korea's "Internet" mainly consists of message boards, state-sponsored media and chat, but of course, social networks are prohibited.

Remember, only the elite can access even this limited network, but normal North Koreans do employ other, innovative methods to access the web.

Such as attaching USB memory sticks to balloons and floating them across the border.

However, it is not just access to the Internet that North Koreans are after. Cellphones are hidden in plastic bags, buried, and only used for two minutes or less to avoid detection in order for citizens to try and reach a world beyond their borders.

The official North Korean network does not allow international calls, and although it provides 3G connectivity, there is no Internet connection to speak of. However, that has not stopped some North Koreans from smuggling Chinese phones across the border.

Scott Thomas Bruce, an expert on North Korea, told the publication:

"Possession of illegal cellphones is a very major crime. The government has actually bought sensor equipment to try and track down people who are using them. If you use them, you want to use them in a highly populated area, and you want to be using them for a short amount of time."

North Korea may be more than reluctant to connect its citizens to the Internet, but the need to prise open the border for trade purposes may result in communication control beginning to lessen.

"The government can no longer monitor all communications in the country, which it could do before," Bruce noted. "That is a very significant development."

(via BBC)

Image credit: Flickr

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— By on December 9, 2012, 10:48 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure