Internet Censorship in North Korea
As one of the most repressive regimes in the world, North Korea severely restricts internet access for both citizens and visitors. Full use of the global Internet is available to only a small handful of high-level officials in the Workers’ Party of Korea. In certain universities, students and faculty may have limited access, though all activity is highly policed and many sites are blocked entirely.
The few tourists and other visitors admitted to the country each year are able to access the Internet through a 3G network. For almost all normal citizens, online access is only available through Kwangmyong, a free public intranet with a limited number of sites and services.
Censorship and Press Freedom in North Korea
Internet censorship in North Korea is part of a larger program of restricting access to the outside world and establishing a cult of personality around the country’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un. The government maintains an authoritarian control over all media. News in the country is released exclusively through the Korean Central News Agency, and much of it is blatantly propagandistic. Journalists are more akin to political activists advocating for the Party, and are subject to ideological testing and ongoing monitoring.
Such restrictions have earned North Korea a second-to-last place spot on the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, as well as widespread condemnation from Human Rights Watch and other international NGOs.
What Is the Kwangmyong?
The Kwangmyong is the chief apparatus of internet censorship in North Korea. A “walled garden” intranet service, it consists of between 1,000 and 5,000 sites covering national politics, economics, culture and science — all of which are tightly controlled by the state. The network also offers email, messaging and social media, though all activities are strictly monitored.
The Kwangmyong is available around-the-clock via a dial-up connection, though few North Koreans have access to it in their homes. As it is most North Koreans’ primary form of electronic communication, it effectively serves as a filter which monitors dissent and prevents citizens from accessing news from independent or international sources.
How Is the Internet Used in North Korea?
Foreign visitors and the few high-ranking officials who have access to the global Internet still face a number of restrictions in the sites they can and can’t view. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are all blocked, as is news from many South Korean sites.
Despite this, the Internet remains a key propaganda tool for the North Korean government. Several pro-North Korea websites are hosted internationally and exist to foment tensions with South Korea and the West.
Hacking also forms a cornerstone of the country’s cyber-espionage program. According to Business Insider, an estimated 6,000 trained hackers work for the North Korean military. The country is widely thought to have been responsible for several high-profile attacks against international governments and media organizations.
Evading Censorship in North Korea
As with anything related to the Hermit Kingdom, getting an accurate picture of the options for evading internet censorship in North Korea is next-to-impossible from the outside. The increasing availability of smartphones in the country and use of VPN technology presents some opportunities for free and independent communication, though the strict penalties associated with accessing outside media are enough to deter the majority of citizens.
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