North Korea is taking steps to toughen control of IT gadgets such as computers and mobile phones to block outside information out of fears that the democratization movements in the Middle East and northern Africa could arouse its people.
Pyongyang has ordered institutions and households to report on how many computers and even portable data storage devices such as USBs and MP3 players they own early this year, according to a Seoul government source.
The North Korean police agency is in charge of keeping track of the IT gadgets possessed by everyone, presses criminal charges against those who failed to report and even confiscates many of the gadgets, the source said.
The reclusive communist state has been running a unit of authorities for years to crack down on North Koreans watching South Korean soap operas or foreign movies, which they call “non-socialist video.”
Pyongyang is also reinforcing a crackdown on use of cellphones and the Internet.
It is estimated that more than 400,000 mobile phones are being used in North Korea.
North Koreans are required to get government permission to use cell phones. They are also banned from bringing in to the country or using cell phones bought overseas.
Foreign members of international nongovernmental organizations working in North Korea were also told to follow domestic regulations on cell phones.
Regular North Koreans are prohibited from using the Internet. Only certain authorities and relatives of the country’s leader Kim Jong-il have limited access to the worldwide web.
Recently, Pyongyang has even banned Internet use of its diplomats and company officials working abroad, and warned them to keep an eye on each other.
South Korean spy chief Won Sei-hoon told the National Assembly early last month that North Korea was tightening control of information to keep its people from being influenced by the pro-democracy protests in the Middle East.
The North Korean Workers’ party also inserted a clause stressing its “opposition to negative phenomena such as conspicuous ideological elements and non-socialist phenomena” in its set of rules in their general meeting of party representatives held for the first time in 44 years last September.
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)