Hack North Korea
From Aug. 2-3, 2014 the Human Rights Foundation will host a two-day hackathon in San Francisco to devise methods of delivering info to North Korea. The event entitled ‘Hack North Korea’ will utilize the expertise of Silicon Valley’s brightest to create solutions to break down the knowledge barriers of one of the world’s most closed societies.

Attendees will include various well known North Korean defectors who will give talks on current methodology for information distribution into the country, such as dropping CDs, DVDs, USB sticks, shortwave radios, and leaflets from balloons.

Following the presentations, participants will divide into teams and begin exploring the ways in which to effectively supply knowledge to North Korea’s 25 million inhabitants.

Safety is an important issue to consider when proposing schemes to dispense information in North Korea. The North Korean penal code considers listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts and the possession of sectarian publications “crimes against the state.” These infractions can result in severe castigation such as hard labor, life prison sentences, and the death penalty.

The main goal of Hack North Korea is not to promote the access of classified data, but rather to encourage solutions for disseminating information and promoting freedom of knowledge to a region that is highly restricted from utilizing common communication portals such as the Internet.

According to The World Bank, North Korea has the lowest Internet usage in the world. The country’s leadership does permit Internet access to a few selected member of its regime. The total number of users is estimated to be in the hundreds.

Although ownership of a personal computer in North Korea is formally banned, close to 4 million computers have been distributed to a minority of its citizens. These individuals have gained the right to access a few closed-off intranets that are heavily monitored and utilize a government-controlled operating system, “Red Star.”

Additionally, the country has only one Internet café, which is located in the capital and is primarily used by foreigners.

HRF president Thor Halvorssen considers the efforts behind the Hackathon as an “information lifeline to ordinary North Koreans, who have no means to learn about the world beyond the lies of their government.”

A study by the research group, the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU,) revealed that nearly half of North Korea’s population of 25 million lives in extreme poverty. Yet, as the United Nations (UN) continues to promote access to information technology as a means to alleviating the world’s poor, the HRF’s hackathon may prove to be helpful solution to breaking the cycle of poverty in the region.

HRF remains hopeful that as more North Koreans gain access to information, they will be empowered to defy and conquer the oppressive nature of the current dictatorship and improve the lives of its citizens.

– Talia Langman

Sources: CNBC, Freedom House, PBS NewsHour, The Guardian, United Nations, US News
Photo: Boing Boing