Google Boss Urges Internet Freedom in North Korea

by Matt Klassen on January 11, 2013

There’s no question that the visit to North Korea by a team led by Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has ruffled some feathers, with many U.S. government officials condemning the visit and branding the two team leaders as ‘useful idiots.’

The trip itself is not an official diplomatic mission, but was billed as a private humanitarian venture that included several influential Americans with limited ties to the U.S. government. The group has called on the secretive regime based in the capital Pyongyang to impose a moratorium on missile testing and has asked for humane treatment of the people of the DPRK and American citizen Kenneth Bae—imprisoned for hostile acts against the government—it doesn’t take much to see the real motivation behind this trip.

North Korea stands as probably the most inaccessible place on earth from a technological perspective, as the country has imposed rigorous controls on the use of the Internet and severely restricts the use of mobile devices. It is really no surprise then that we would find Schmidt defying the wishes of the American government in order to establish contact with the true final frontier of the technological world…although I would hesitate to call such a trip ‘humanitarian.’

While eschewing the ‘true’ principles of communism, North Korea has long been a country of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ with many of comrades serving in government enjoying the good life, while many rank and file citizens struggle to survive. It’s not surprising then to hear that North Korean leadership is at least interested in hearing the proposals put forth by Schmidt and his team, if only for the fact that I’m sure many of them want better smartphones and speedier access to porn government websites. In fact, should North Korea make any decision regarding Internet freedoms, it’ll likely be a change not afforded to the average citizen…it simply never is.

Truth be told though, while this envoy has come under fire from American officials for pandering to a country who’s nuclear policies fly in the face of American global controls and for paying tribute to the heroes and leaders of the country—a tribute, mind you, that every traveller to North Korea is required to make—Schmidt’s efforts may actually do more to open the doors to North Korea than years of pushy American diplomacy ever could.

“You have a country that’s arguably the world’s most inaccessible, probably in both directions, to Internet resources, where perhaps only a few thousand citizens have Internet access,” Susan Moeller, a professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, told TechNewsWorld.

“The fact that [Schmidt] is making a visit is perhaps a larger indication that the new North Korean leadership are willing to exchange ideas at the leadership level,” Moeller continued. “It suggests both the Google side and, presumably, the North Korea side, are interested in starting a conversation, and I see this arguably as less of a cultural symbol and more of an economic one. You can’t enter the global economy without access to the global Web.”

In the end, while I truly doubt the ‘humanitarian’ efforts of the Google envoy in favour of a distinctly capitalist motivation, I still have to applaud Schmidt and his team for the effort they’ve put in to opening the doors to one of the most closed off countries in the world. While I don’t expect to see North Korean explode onto the Internet, at least it’s a start.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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