The Internet, intranet and mobile phones-users of which have increased sharply in recent years-are a luxury reserved currently for the elite in
They can now "communicate in ways they have not been able to before" and this shift means that the North Korean government is "going to have to triage surveillance activities" because "the sheer number of conversations now exceeds the ability of the government to police them," he said at a forum organized by the
Despite high penalties for "transgression," there is a potential for networks to develop and share information even if it is just between members of privileged classes," he said.
"This creates a new space for nongovernmental actors that did not previously exist. Unmonitored networks can develop and share a range of data and media easier than ever before," Bruce said.
"While penalties and social controls disincentivize these activities, space exists for networks to form in
He predicted that over the next decade, a combination of market development, generational change and information technology "has the potential to fundamentally alter the North Korean state and creates a strong incentive to integrate
When using government-approved technologies, North Koreans are becoming "information seekers," Bruce said, combing through foreign, state-approved research on science and technology topics.
North Korean leader
"While the technology is not likely to be a driver of social instability or unrest in the country, cell phones, the intranet and the Internet facilitate the spread of social media and enable networks to form within the state that can be used for other purposes."
The regime has mitigated the threats to its existence by integrating the use of technology into its strong network of social controls and only allowing members of the state who have the greatest stake in its survival to make use of it, he said.
While cell phones are the most common information technology tools in
The phones are relatively expensive and plans cost around U.S.
Only privileged North Koreans can make use of the country's closed intranet system and the network's chat services and discussion boards are strictly monitored, while media is heavily screened.
Access to the global Internet is limited to a small number of university students who must apply to use it for research; businesses, such as tourism, aimed at bringing in hard currency to the North; military personnel charged with gathering information about other states; and North Koreans abroad representing consulates or working with international organizations.
Exceptions to the latter are an estimated dozen or so families of the North Korean "super elite" who have unfettered access to the Internet because they represent the state itself and are not considered a risk to the regime.
Bruce said that
Additionally, he said, the launch of a regime-sponsored network has led to a corresponding crackdown on the use of unauthorized and unregulated technologies, meaning that most North Koreans are unlikely to risk their own safety to do so.
"The availability of mechanisms to undermine the state does not necessarily indicate interest in using them," he said.
"Many North Koreans, including the elites, will see their future bound with the state as it exists today and view government control mechanisms as a positive force for security and stability in
Bruce cautioned that efforts by governments or NGOs to circumvent
"I think there is a strong desire to encourage change in
He also warned against merely encouraging the development of the technology sector in
Instead, he suggested that governments and NGOs "engage" with the sector "to feed technical data that outlines best practices for economic development into the North Korean intranet."
He said topics could include public health, best practices in agriculture, energy efficiency and development, economic literacy and banking, and be presented through a closed network that could be monitored by the North Korean authorities for content.
"North Koreans, I think, would be very likely to respond well to this because it would allow them to control the information that is coming in. It would build contacts with the outside world while not opening the floodgates to a deluge of foreign media and topics," he said.
"This at the same time would be successful, potentially, in supporting economic development in
Copyright (c) 1998-2011, RFA. Used with the permission of
Most Popular Stories
- High-Tech Home Theaters Undergoing a Revolution
- Amazon Prime Grabs Classic HBO TV Series
- Wellness Programs Grow More Popular With Employers
- Procter & Gamble Income Up on Cost Cutting
- Sales of New Homes Fell 14.5 Percent in March
- Obama Opens Japan Trip with Sushi Stop
- #myNYPD Twitter Campaign Backfires for NYPD
- Google, SunPower Team Up on Solar Power
- FedEx Sued Over Deadly California Bus Crash
- Boeing Flying High With Strong First Quarter