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The Information Arms Race in a Microcosm

May 6, 2013

While paging through some morning reading, I caught this article at The Register, on North Korea’s efforts to cut down on contraband information.

DVDs and USBs loaded with South Korean TV shows and films are usually brought in across the northern border with China, although the authorities are getting wise to the increase in smuggling.

One trick is to cut off the power supply to an area – assuming it was on in the first place – and go house to house to check if any of the DVD players have contraband discs stuck in them, according to the North Korea Tech blog.

As a result, USBs have become more favoured for smuggling in foreign content, although the authorities have apparently reacted by disabling the USB ports on DVD players imported from China.

It’s almost like the Norks are the parents in a sitcom trying to catch their kids reading in bed at night.  Of course, most parents don’t shoot their kids…

Finding ways to limit information is usually a losing proposition, especially since information continues to come in new and exciting forms.  While a totalitarian government has the ability to limit nearly everything, the contraband can only get smaller, or more mobile, or… you get the point.  It’s to the limit of the imagination on how to get information.

I still hearken back to growing up in southern Ohio, where I would drive past one of the Voice of America antenna arrays on occasion.  It was ingrained in me that the technology I could see was beaming information around the world so that those in Eastern Europe could get that data to make decisions closer to those of a free world.  Today, it’s not just a radio, it’s an array of satellites, a whole spectrum of wireless, and an army of mobile video devices that can deliver the message.  It’s not possible to stop them all… though I’ll also say it’s not possible to get everyone to actually start listening.

But as a techie, and especially as one who had a strong hand in at least one of the above technologies, it heartens me that information is still on the march.  I hope that lightens the hears of those in the darkness all around the world.

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