News / Asia

Google Urges North Korea to Open Internet Access

Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt and former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson look at soldiers working on computers at the Grand Peoples Study House, Pyongyang, North Korea, January 9, 2013.
Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt and former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson look at soldiers working on computers at the Grand Peoples Study House, Pyongyang, North Korea, January 9, 2013.
This week's visit to North Korea by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt has drawn attention to Pyongyang's policy of severely limiting Internet access to the nation's ruling elite and their families.

Schmidt directly addressed that policy as he ended his four-day private mission to the reclusive communist state. Speaking to reporters after landing in Beijing on Thursday, he said he warned Pyongyang that its continued isolation from global information networks will harm economic growth.

"The government has to do something, they have to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government in North Korea has not yet done," Schmidt said. "It is their choice now, and in my view, it is time for them to start, or they will remain behind."

Schmidt visited several North Korean technological facilities this week as part of a small American delegation on a self-declared "humanitarian" mission.  He has been a vocal supporter of providing people around the world with Internet access, a right denied to almost all North Koreans.

The U.S. State Department's latest human-rights report on North Korea said Internet usage was limited to "high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including select university students." It said a "slightly larger group" of users can access a North Korean government-run intranet that contains only state-sanctioned content.

The U.S. research group East-West Center has said only a "very few" senior North Korean officials can use a fully uncensored Internet. In a report published in October, it said more North Koreans have a limited ability to "gather data on the United States, South Korea, and other governments; identify data that could populate the DPRK intranet; and maintain the network of propaganda websites that North Korea aims at the outside world."

North Korea also has a third-generation mobile phone network that it launched in 2008 through a joint-venture with Egyptian company Orascom. The network now has one million users, but they cannot connect to the Internet or make overseas calls.

Washington-based blogger Joshua Stanton, who runs a website called One Free Korea, said in an interview with VOA that North Korea's mobile phones are available only to the nation's wealthiest people.

"Most North Koreans have no way to communicate freely with with North Koreans in other cities. They have no way to spread news. They have no way to form churches or unions or the kinds of organizations that other people have," Stanton said. "If it would become possible for North Koreans to talk with or text with people elsewhere in North Korea or even in South Korea, everything suddenly changes and then the system cannot contain the people's aspirations anymore."

The East-West Center said that while North Korea's information technology networks are limited, they represent a "fundamental shift." For the first time, the government seems willing to let its privileged class access data and communicate to support the development of the nation.

Another member of this week's American delegation, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, said he was unable to meet with an American citizen detained in North Korea. Pyongyang has threatened to put the Korean-American tourist Kenneth Bae on trial for unspecified crimes against the state.

"We expressed concern to the North Korean officials about the American detainee," he said. "We were informed that his health is good, that the judicial proceedings would start soon. That is encouraging. I was also given permission to proceed with a letter from his son, and that will happen shortly."

Richardson said he also urged North Korean officials to introduce a "moratorium on ballistic missiles and a possible nuclear test."  Washington and its allies have been pushing for new sanctions against Pyongyang for carrying out a long-range rocket test last month. The State Department criticized the timing of the American delegation's mission as "unhelpful."

Speaking to VOA, Greg Scarlatoiu of the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likely believes the high-profile American visitors gave his leadership a degree of international recognition.

"Visits from senior officials and extraordinarily successful entrepreneurs are going to help to raise the profile of the North Korea regime," Scarlatoiu said. "Probably from the North Korean regime's viewpoint, they may think this may also be an opportunity to create some business opportunities in the process, to make some money for the regime, but it's hard to think how that may be possible."

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More