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Friday, April 15, 2011     GET REAL

N. Korea unnerved by Arab uprisings, tightens control over all electronic devices

By Lee Jong-Hean, special from

SEOUL — North Korea has confiscated electronic equipment capable of disseminating information about democracy uprisings that have raged through the Arab world.


At the same time, the Pyongyang regime has tightened control over the movement of people, in an operation designed to prevent similar disturbances among its own people.

All institutions and households were ordered to report on how many computers and electronic devices including portable data storage devices such as USB sticks and MP3 players they own, a government source here said.

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North Korea has imposed tougher restrictions on the use of mobile phones to screen out information about the Middle East uprisings.
The country's People's Security Ministry, in charge of policing the computers and electronic devices, has pressed criminal charges against those who failed to report and has confiscated many of the devices, the source said.

The regime has also ordered its diplomats and overseas businessmen not to use the Internet for fear of "ideological contamination" and to further strengthen the monitoring of each other, the source said.

In addition, the North has imposed tougher restrictions on the use of mobile phones to screen out information about the Middle East uprisings from the secretive state.

Any North Korean who wants to use mobile phones must be authorized by the security agency, and no privately-owned mobile phones may be brought into the country, the source said.

Foreigners residing in the North are also subject to tougher restrictions on the use of mobile phones, the source said. Pyongyang has already suspended the rental of mobile phones by the few foreign visitors since early this year when the Jasmine Revolution erupted in the Arab world.

Some 400,000 mobile phones are believed to be in use in North Korea with its 23 million population, using the lone network operated by the Egyptian Orascom Telecom Holding.

Orascom, which has provided mobile phone service in troubled countries from Tunisia to Iraq to Pakistan, launched a third-generation mobile network in North Korea in late 2008. In return for opening the mobile business, Orascom has provided funds and aid that help prop up the troubled Kim Jong-Il regime.

Defectors from the North said the mobile phones in the country cannot be used to spread information as they did in the Middle East and North Africa as only a few privileged elite who support the Kim Jong-Il regime are allowed to possess them.

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