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Information Technology and Social Controls in North Korea
Region: Asia
Location: Korea, North
Published January 28, 2014
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To mitigate the risk of social unrest, the North Korean government has attempted to integrate information technology into its system of social controls. Cell phones and other communications technology are a material incentive for the North Korean elite, as well as a means of controlling information for the population. Penalties for possession of forbidden technology or the misuse of approved technology are harsh. Although the North Korean government seems confident that this social control system will allow the DPRK to take advantage of the positive elements of these technologies while minimizing the social impact on the population, the North Koreans privileged enough to access this technology can communicate in ways that are unprecedented in the history of the state.

Rather than expecting cell phones, the intranet and the Internet to induce a radical change in the North Korean state, policy- makers should adopt a more cautious approach. Overt support for information technology as a tool for circumventing state controls will result in further restrictions. Financially supporting technology in North Korea is very possible, but limited in impact due to the control mechanisms of the state, international sanctions, and the risks associated with investing in North Korea. A modest strategy would be to feed information into the DPRK that will support development that necessitates links to institutions abroad and integration with the region.

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