Friday, October 27, 2006

North Korea and the Internet

An excellent article from Monday's New York Times discusses the role of the Internet, or lack thereof, in North Korea. This reference to a famous satellite image of the Korean Peninsula at night helps put the issue in context:

The South was illuminated from coast to coast, suggesting that not just lights, but that other, arguably more bedrock utility of the modern age — information — was pulsating through the population.

The North was black.

This is an impoverished country where televisions and radios are hard-wired to receive only government-controlled frequencies. Cellphones were banned outright in 2004. In May, the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York ranked North Korea No. 1 — over also-rans like Burma, Syria and Uzbekistan — on its list of the “10 Most Censored Countries.”

That would seem to leave the question of Internet access in North Korea moot.

The main objective of the Kim Family Regime that rules North Korea is to preserve their totalitarian Stalinist state by keeping it as isolated as possible from the broader world. Their policy towards the Internet is fully in keeping with this goal. Instead of censoring or filtering the Internet, North Korea avoids it altogether:

Julien Pain, head of the Internet desk at Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group which tracks censorship around the world, put it more bluntly. “It is by far the worst Internet black hole,” he said.

Yet, as the article notes, not even the totalitarian edifice created by the Kim Dynasty can keep North Korea completely isolated from the outside world:

Writing in The International Herald Tribune last year, Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, suggested that North Korea’s ban on cellphones was being breached on the black market along China’s border. And as more and more cellphones there become Web-enabled, she suggested, that might mean that a growing number of North Koreans, in addition to talking to family in the South, would be quietly raising digital periscopes from the depths.

Last year, CNN ran a program featuring video secretly produced by North Korean dissidents using cell phones and digital cameras. On the one hand, the footage painted a bleak, chilling picture of life under the Kim Family Regime. Images showed dead bodies lying in the street, with passersby strolling right past them as if this were an everyday occurence. Considering that as many as 2 million North Koreans perished by famine in the mid-1990s, while their regime continued to pursue nuclear weapons, such a blase attitude towards death is tragically to be expected.

For all this, the very existence of the video and those who took it offers some cause for hope. North Korea is the world's most repressive regime, a Stalinist monstrosity with gulags containing an estimated 200,000 prisoners. Freedom of expression is almost literally nonexistent. Yet, despite this totalitarian apparatus of control, there is dissent in North Korea and information technology is entering the country to foster it. The Kim regime's desire to keep North Korea isolated from the world is ultimately bound to fail. We can only hope this happens before North Korea's megalomaniacal ruler plunges his country into a nuclear holocaust.


Post a Comment

<< Home