Monday, January 25, 2010

Infiltrating North Korea with cell phones to get the real news

The Daily NK, an Internet news service based in Seoul, has “underground stringers” in North Korea, and is reviled by Pyongyang.

Daily NK is one of six news outlets that have emerged in recent years specializing in collecting information from North Korea. These Web sites or newsletters hire North Korean defectors and cultivate sources inside a country shrouded in a near-total news blackout.

“Technology made this possible,” said Sohn Kwang-joo, the chief editor of Daily NK. “We infiltrate the wall of North Korea with cellphones.”

Over the past decade, the North’s border with China has grown more porous as famine drove many North Koreans out in search of food and an increasing traffic in goods — and information — developed. A new tribe of North Korean merchants negotiates smuggling deals with Chinese partners, using Chinese cellphones that pick up signals inside the North Korean border.

These phones have become a main tool of communication for many of the 17,000 North Korean defectors living in the South trying to re-establish contact with their families and friends in the North.

Some informants have become so adept with technology that they send text-messages, audio files and photos to Seoul by cell phone, said Kim Heung-gwang, a former North Korean computer scientist who heads North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a group of defectors that runs a news Web site.

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