What upgrades of North Korea’s surveillance equipment say about policies and priorities

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

According to a recent report, North Korean authorities upgraded their system for monitoring and detecting use of foreign-made cell phones (which is illegal) along the border. This is all part of the general crackdown on “anti-socialist” phenomena over the last four-five years, and under Covid-19 in particular:

North Korea has replaced radio wave detectors installed in regions along the China-North Korea border with the latest models.

The authorities use the radio wave detectors to crack down on illegal mobile phones.

According to a Daily NK source in Yanggang Province, North Korean authorities recently replaced the radio wave detectors in border regions such as Hyesan and Samjiyon as part of its efforts to ferret out locals who use illegal foreign-made mobile phones.

The Ministry of State Security’s Bureau 10, the division in charge of radio wave surveillance, replaced the equipment under top secrecy from Oct. 1 to Oct. 15.

The source said that given how the ministry upgraded its detectors along the border to the latest models, it seems the ministry will once again wage a fierce war to root out users of illegal foreign-made mobile phones.

In fact, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of State Security has been conducting a sweeping “mop-up war” and “war of annihilation” in border regions against people who use illegal foreign-made mobile phones.

The Ministry of State Security has arrested many border residents on espionage charges, subjecting them to forced labor of varying severity. In serious cases, the ministry has even dragged off locals to political prison camps.

With border residents continuing to use illegal mobile phones to contact China, South Korea or other countries despite these efforts, the Ministry of State Security appears to have replaced its existing radio wave detectors with high-end ones capable of tracking the location of mobile phone users more quickly and accurately.

A defector who came to South Korea in 2019 told Daily NK that given how the Ministry of State Security installed the old radio wave detectors several years ago, it may have been time to replace them.

“In fact, if the ministry replaced them with new, highly capable radio wave detectors, it means they want to root out more Chinese-made mobile phone users, and even if not, the rumor that it installed new devices would have been effective in generating fear that the authorities will catch people who use Chinese-made mobile phones,” he said.

(Source: Kim Chae-hwan, “N. Korea replaces radio wave detectors on border with the latest models,” Daily NK, November 3, 2022.)

None of this information is possible to confirm, and the report relies on a small number of sources. Nonetheless, if accurate, the news is interesting for several reasons. For one, it highlights the regime’s increasing reliance on, and investments in, technology for surveillance. Moreover, it further highlights the government’s emphasis on border control and information censorship, which has increased significantly over the past few years.

Share

Tags: ,