North Korea, one of the world’s poorest and most isolated countries, is rapidly adding users to its cellphone network. But don’t expect that to increase the information flow to dissidents. The proliferation of gadgets is making North Korea’s security services increasingly nervous — and the best dissent technologies are still illegal and risky.
South Korea’s unification minister Um Jong-Sik, citing figures from North Korea, says the Hermit Kingdom now has 450,000 users on its official mobile phone network, a 50 percent increase over the year before. North Korea’s dissidents won’t be able to use these phones to organize any opposition to Kim Jong Il’s reign, though. The network, provided by Egypt’s Orascom, doesn’t let North Koreans dial outside the country or access the internet.
Moreover, Um claims the antiauthoritarian wave has made the North extra nervous about any technology that might spread news of protests in the Arab world. “After watching the spread of pro-democracy movements in the Middle East, North Korea is expected to strengthen its control further over any elements endangering its system,” Um tells Agence France-Presse. The North suspended phone rentals to visiting foreigners in January, a move some interpreted as an attempt to head off any spread of news about the Middle East uprisings.