North Korea tightens its grip on unauthorized use of cellphones and computers

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean speaking on the phone in an area outside Pyongyang. (NK daily)

North Korean authorities recently asked all registered cellphone users and computer owners to update their software while ordering all computer-related organizations to submit assessments of their activities over the last two years.

According to a Daily NK source in Pyongyang on Friday, the Publications Inspection Bureau and the Broadcast Supervision Bureau issued a joint order on July 2, which sets out the measures of technological and administrative inspections in the IT sector aimed at ” eliminate” the use of mobile. phones and computers for unauthorized purposes.

In Pyongyang, authorities immediately issued the order to everyone working in the country’s IT industry, including those affiliated with information and service centers, post offices, computer repair and sales organizations. computers and agencies specializing in computer programming and the development of applications for mobile phones.

Additionally, workplace political organizations have passed the bulk of the order to all cell phone users and computer owners.

The Daily NK source said the order relates to additional provisions of North Korea’s Mobile Communications Law on Technology Administration, which was amended in late May last year. The order triggered the first inspection by the two offices since the law required mobile phone users to visit a service center or other organization to update their software once every six months, rather than only once a year.

Specifically, the order provided:

  • Registered cellphone users and computer owners must complete inspections of their devices by the end of August to ensure that their software has been updated.
  • Inspections to ensure device users have installed programs to block “unclean posts and propaganda material”.
  • That the IT sector, including information centers, service centers, sales centers and repair centers, submit organization-wide reviews for the past two years.
  • Reports and abandonment of individuals who have developed and marketed illegal mobile phone technology.

The source said the order called on cell phone users and registered computer users to “go, without fail, to a nearby service center or to the office of the Ministry of State Security by end of August” to get a stamp that they have updated their software. In addition, the ordinance called on workers in the IT sector to submit evaluations of their “technology administration activities” in the past two years since the party’s eighth congress.

In North Korea, the order has raised concerns that authorities are trying to determine how people use their phones by inspecting their devices.

“People say the ‘upgrade’ is just an excuse for the state to manage even more tightly what people do by scrutinizing their privacy through regular inspections of browsing histories,” the agency said. source.

Meanwhile, some North Koreans say the order for IT workers to submit assessments of their activities over the past two years represents a “warning”.

Externally, the ordinance aims to ensure that IT-related workers have properly filed reports with the Publications Inspection Bureau or the Broadcast Supervision Bureau on the management of users’ browsing histories on the cell phones or illegal activities.

In reality, however, some people claim that the order signals that authorities have begun efforts to uncover software experts who illegally develop, install, or sell programs that circumvent North Korean controls and surveillance, and that the authorities will severely crack down on the domestic distribution of such software.

All North Korean phones have an app called “TraceViewer,” which allows the government to see what documents or video files users have viewed on their phones.

Some North Koreans have used bypass programs to bypass the app and open illegal files. The source explained that the government believes that the computer experts are involved in developing and selling the programs and has therefore decided to crack down on their activities.

“The state tries to monitor [people’s digital activities] using browsing history apps, but the workarounds keep popping up and people keep tampering with them,” the source said. “Management believes that government-bred computer scientists are doing all these programs and intend to eradicate [the software at the source].

“Despite the fact that the Unified Command on Unsocialist and Anti-Socialist Behaviors is already quite active, the joint order was issued because [the government believes] reactionary thought and culture are spread primarily through electronic devices,” he continued, adding, “Taking the lead in [allowing the the spread of reactionary thought and culture] are young computer scientists cultured by the party.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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