North Korea announced Friday that it would block Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and a number of prominent South Korean websites in an effort to control the spread of information. Since the majority of North Koreans already had little to no access to the internet, the new policy means that foreign visitors will be most affected by the restrictions.
Photo by Bjoern Meyer/Getty Images
The announcement came from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and appeared earlier in the week at Koryolink, North Korea’s primary mobile service provider, and other internet access points. The majority of North Korean citizens are only allowed to surf a tightly controlled intranet that is subject to heavy government censorship.
Visitors to North Korea, as well as the country’s small foreign population, were previously able to access the internet with almost no restrictions, subject to likely monitoring by government officials. Now, social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, some South Korean media sites, gambling sites, and “sex and adult websites” have been blocked for all users “for a certain period of time.”
The government also revealed that users who try to bypass the restrictions in an “improper” fashion or those who publish “anti-republic data” will face an unspecified punishment.
Roughly 2 million North Koreans are thought to have access to mobile phones, but the vast majority of those devices are not connected to the internet. Only government officials and those with permission or an acceptable need for internet access are allowed to surf the web, a privilege that comes with a promise of intrusive government surveillance.
Foreign visitors to North Korea have been able to connect to the local 3G network on their smart phones since 2013, so long as they acquire a SIM card from Koryolink. When the government realized that users were uploading photos and videos to sites like Facebook and Twitter, it began quietly implementing internet controls in order to stem the flow of information leaving the country.
The new restrictions resemble those already in place in neighboring countries: China places outright bans on websites deemed politically or socially problematic, while South Korea block North Korean websites and a vast selection of adult content.