Monday, March 29, 2010

North Korea secrets come to light via cellphone newsfeed

A New York Times article highlights the use of cell phones in North Korea. North Korea, formerly impenetrable information-wise, is facing networks of its own citizens feeding information about life there to South Korea and the world at large.

The networks are the creation of a handful of North Korean defectors and South Korean human rights activists using cellphones to pierce North Korea’s near-total news blackout. The cell phones work on China’s cellular networks, so they operate only within several miles of the Chinese border. Because North Koreans cannot travel freely in their country, Web sites are likewise forced to depend mostly on people who live near China.

The work is risky. Recruiters spend months identifying and coaxing potential informants, all the while evading agents from the North and the Chinese police bent on stopping their work. The North Koreans face even greater danger; exposure could lead to imprisonment — or death.

The result has been a news free-for-all, a jumble of sometimes confirmed but often contradictory reports. But the fact that such news is leaking out at all is something of a revolution for a brutally efficient gulag state that has forcibly cloistered its people for decades even as other closed societies have reluctantly accepted at least some of the intrusions of a more wired world.

Informers’ phoned and texted reports are posted on Web sites. These Web reports have been especially eye-opening for South Koreans, providing a rare glimpse of the aptly named Hermit Kingdom untainted by their own government’s biases, whether the anti-Communists who present the North in the worst light or liberals who gloss over bad news for fear of jeopardizing chances at d├ętente.

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