North Korea Expands Surveillance State with Imported and Domestic Technology

North Korea intensifies digital surveillance, installing cameras and collecting biometric data, threatening citizens' limited freedoms. The regime's tech-driven push for control could create a "panopticon" state.

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Rafia Tasleem
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North Korea Expands Surveillance State with Imported and Domestic Technology

North Korea Expands Surveillance State with Imported and Domestic Technology

North Korea is intensifying its surveillance efforts by installing cameras in schools, workplaces, and airports, while also collecting biometric data such as fingerprints and photographs from its citizens, according to a report from the website 38 North. The country is using a combination of imported equipment from China and domestically developed software to enhance its digital surveillance capabilities.

The report suggests that North Korea's technology-driven push to monitor its population more closely threatens to limit the small spaces citizens have left to engage in private business activities, access foreign media, and criticize the government. While the country's digital surveillance efforts are not as pervasive as China's due to poor electricity and network connectivity, the government has been stepping up efforts to tighten control over its citizens, likely aided by the border controls and monitoring systems installed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why this matters: North Korea's expanding digital surveillance state has significant implications for the rights and freedoms of its citizens. The use of imported and domestic technology to monitor the population threatens to further erode the limited spaces for private activities and dissent in the tightly controlled country.

Surveillance cameras are now prevalent in schools, workplaces, and airports in North Korea, allowing for remote monitoring of activities. The state's adoption of digital surveillance tools poses a threat to the few remaining spaces where North Koreans can engage in private business, access foreign media, and voice criticisms.

According to the report, as many as one in 20 North Koreans is already in the country's existing surveillance system. The report also notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased efforts by the North Korean government to tighten control over its citizens and promote loyalty to the regime.

North Korea is eager to maintain these tight controls on its population and limit foreign influence and imported media. The report indicates that North Korea is envisioning a future with more pervasive video surveillance, though it currently lacks the computing infrastructure to fully utilize the vast amounts of data collected.

The 38 North report highlights North Korea's growing use of digital technology and its extensive human surveillance system, which could lead to the erosion of even the "tiniest freedoms" for its people. While North Korea still relies heavily on human methods of spying on its citizens, the combination of state control and pervasive digital surveillance threatens to create a "panopticon" state where the regime can exert even greater control over the population.

Key Takeaways

  • North Korea is expanding digital surveillance, installing cameras nationwide.
  • Biometric data collection, including fingerprints and photos, is increasing.
  • Surveillance aims to limit private activities, access to foreign media, and dissent.
  • COVID-19 has led to tighter controls and promotion of regime loyalty.
  • North Korea's digital surveillance threatens to erode remaining freedoms for citizens.