Human rights activists team up with Silicon Valley to bring information to North Korea

BY Jaywon Choe  July 21, 2014 at 2:56 PM EST

The Human Rights Foundation will host a two-day event in August, bringing together experts from the tech industry with North Korean activists and defectors. The goal — to brainstorm new ways of smuggling information into one of the world’s most walled-off countries.

The so-called “hackathon” will be held in San Francisco, beginning August 2. According to organizers, participants will first examine the ways information is currently brought into the country, before coming up with their own ideas on how to do so more effectively.

North Korea consistently ranks as one of the most insular countries in the world. Freedom of the press is prohibited, and Internet access is restricted for the vast majority of the nearly 25 million people living there. Few outside of the military and government are allowed on the Web.

As such, getting information to the public has been a challenge and the focus of organizations like the HRC. In the past, the group has attached USB drives — loaded with Korean-language Wikipedia — to balloons and sent them across the border. It’s also dropped hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy leaflets over the country, also attached to balloons.

At an event in January, HRF president Thor Halvorssen called such efforts the “information lifeline to ordinary North Koreans, who have no means to learn about the world beyond the lies of their government.”

“The international community often focuses on how little we know about life inside North Korea—but the real story is that North Koreans know little to nothing about the world we live in.”