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Silicon Valley Is Helping Activists Hack North Korea

But how do you get data into the most ‘closed’ place on Earth?

Michael Cruickshank
Silicon Valley Is Helping Activists Hack North Korea© 2018 Flickr - (Stephan)

While in the past, North Korea - officially the  Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) - was one of the most closed societies on Earth, now its seems in the modern, digital age not even the most repressive societies can stop the flow of information. Citizens in the DPRK can now reportedly access an increasing array of digital media, smuggled across the border from China, and with this, are slowly learning more and more about the outside world. This, activists outside of the country hope, is the best hope which the world has of eventually freeing the peninsula from the grip of the Kim regime.

The event will harness Silicon Valley in order to “disrupt the Kim dictatorship's information monopoly”.

In order to speed up this process, Human Rights Watch is holding a two day conference called ‘Disrupt North Korea’ where they hope to find new ways to get information into the country. The event will take the form of a hackathon which will attempt of harness some of the brightest minds in Silicon Valley in order to “disrupt the Kim dictatorship's information monopoly”.

Lending their expertise to the event will be several leading DPRK advocates and defectors. These include pro-democracy activist Park Sang-hak, Kang Chol-hwan who was imprisoned by the regime as a child, media personality Park Yeon-mi and a former DPRK computer studies professor Kim Heung-Kwang.

Image: © 2014 Human Rights Watch

The event aims to build on previous efforts to bring information into the country. Successful approaches in the past have included the cross-border smuggling of disguised computers, mobile phones and CD players and the broadcasting of long-wave radio signals into the country. In addition, activists in the past have even began to fill giant helium balloons with USB sticks containing the Korean-language Wikipedia as well as radios and pro-Democracy leaflets, which are then floated into North Korea.

While such efforts are unlikely to end the North Korean regime in the short term, they have proven to be effective in the past. Similar techniques such as Radio Free Europe were used to destabilize and eventually end the Soviet Union’s dominance over Eastern Europe. As the number of North Koreas with access to digital devices increases, so too, inevitably will their contact with the outside world, and outside ideas.


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