US Researcher Says North Korea Is Increasing Digital Surveillance

( — Way back in 2012, Andrew Natsios, co-chair of the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, commented that the regime had implemented a “level of oppressive control” few societies had ever seen.

A new report co-authored by Stimson Center senior fellow Marty Williams indicates North Korea has only gotten better at enacting strict control on their citizens since then. Williams says that the regime’s digital surveillance is being used against citizens from every level of society. Traffic cameras, smartphones and streaming set-top boxes are all part of the technological eyes that are always watching North Korean citizens.

The report includes data gleaned from statements by North Korean defectors, as well as footage from North Korean state-run media and public research from universities. Video surveillance cameras have become increasingly widespread in schools, workplaces and along the border. The country has been developing facial recognition software and is currently building a robust database of their citizens’ biometric data. Cameras monitoring the border prevent escapes, but they also help prevent guards from accepting bribes to allow border crossings.

North Korea has been working to develop their own software for digital surveillance but in the meantime, they have been getting their needs met in that department by China. Williams indicated that the lack of a large hardware industry means they must turn to China to procure hardware such as smartphones and digital cameras. However, Williams comments that North Korea’s human analog surveillance surpasses any in the world. Training and manpower only go so far though, and they have started installing a 4G network so they will be able to continue developing their digital surveillance capabilities.

While North Korea evidently aspires to a more comprehensive surveillance state like China’s, lack of funds, spotty electricity supply, and slow cellular networks present hurdles to be overcome. During the pandemic, North Korea implemented a zero-Covid policy, which severely curtailed border traffic and trade. They banned tourism and ejected diplomats.

Rather than reversing or even loosening these measures, they have since only strengthened and expanded state control. Williams claims that North Korea is developing facial recognition software and surveillance to monitor where all citizens are at any given time. He also says they are working to create internet protocol televisions that would monitor citizen’s viewing habits, like the intrusive state depicted in 1984 by George Orwell.

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