(Photo) A man turns over his notebook as he talks on his mobile phone. Photograph taken by Koo Kwang-ho in the Moran District of downtown Pyongyang in June 2011

Mobile phone usage has expanded greatly in North Korea, with 5 million people, over 20% of the total population, now in possession of a device. Particularly popular are smartphone-type devices capable of storing images and photos. Meanwhile, the North Korean authorities, concerned by this rise in technology, have sought to tighten their control.

Authorities can tap mobile phones to monitor calls but, nowadays, censors are more concerned with the spread of easily-copied videos, pictures, and text messages.

During roadside inspections and dress code crackdowns, officers first demand to be shown text messages as well as stored photos and videos on mobile phones. Often, when officers choose to confiscate a mobile phone, an investigation follows.

A reporting partner living in the northern region of the country told ASIAPRESS in mid-October, “For all investigations, the Ministry of People’s Security (police), National Security Agency (secret police) and other public security agencies now begin by inspecting mobile phones. I asked an acquaintance of mine who works for the State Security Department and he told me that they have hired a specialist in restoring erased data.”

According to the reporting partner, if you are asked to show an officer the contents of your phone but refuse to do so, the phone will be seized and taken away to have the password or fingerprint authentication cracked. The police offices are said to house such technical experts.

Mobile phone inspections are not limited to just police investigations, however. In North Korea, there are teams of officers on the streets that inspect phones. Known as ‘disciplinary teams’ or ‘secret groups’, they are also charged with cracking down on decadent clothing and hairstyles.
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