By Andy Greenberg
In the age of Dropbox and Google Drive, the USB stick has come to seem like a dusty tchotchke that belongs in the drawer with your iPhone 4 cables. But send your chunk of cheap flash memory into North Korea, and it becomes a powerful, even subversive object—one that a new activist project wants use to help chip away at the intellectual control of the hermit kingdom’s fascist government.
Late last week, the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and the Silicon Valley nonprofit Forum 280 launched Flash Drives for Freedom, an initiative to collect USB flash drive donations from Americans and then ship those slices of silicon to North Korean defector groups. The Korean activist organizations, starting with the Seoul-based non-profit North Korean Strategy Center, will then fill the drives with Western and South Korean films and TV shows and smuggle them across the border into North Korea, where their contraband contents can break Kim Jong-un’s ban on all foreign media. The glimpse of the outside world that those TV shows and films provide is meant to dispel the ideology and illusions the Kim regime depends on to control its populace: that the outside world is poor, dangerous, hostile, and inferior to North Korea.
“You can be involved just by shipping a USB drive to Palo Alto, and we’ll help to get it sent to North Korea,” says HRF’s chief strategy officer Alex Gladstein. “This is a viable technology that works there, that North Koreans have decided is a way to reach people.” Gladstein says that despite Americans’ notion of thumb drives as a near-obsolete technology, they still have the power to pierce North Korea’s internet blackout and give the country’s citizens a radically different view of America, their Southern neighbor and their own impoverished homeland. “Each one has the potential to literally change someone’s life,” he says.
Picture: Kaldari (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons