North Korea has begun blocking access to Twitter and Facebook on domestic Internet connections offered to foreigners, according to a report last week.
If correct, the move is apparently the first active blocking of Internet access by the North Korean government and comes at a time when it appears to be slowly tightening the screws on outflow of information via foreigners and tourists.
On the surface, it stops the immediate posting of images and messages on the two sites, a practice popular with tourists while traveling inside the reclusive country.
While that slows the immediate release of information, it doesn’t mean the images cannot be posted once users leave the country. Images and messages can also be immediately sent outside of the country via email or other means. A resourceful tourist could easily set up an email to Twitter or Facebook posting mechanism, thus enabling realtime updates to continue.
Perhaps more important is that this appears to represent the first time the government has messed around with the Internet connections offered to foreigners in the city. In the past, foreign residents and tourists have talked about the freedom they enjoyed to surf websites, even those based in South Korea. The Internet connection in Pyongyang offered less restrictions that that of China, which heavily filters certain sites.
If the government has acquired a taste for blocking Internet traffic, could other sites be far behind?
It was only August that the government told embassies and aid organizations to shut down all WiFi networks pending official authorization. Enabled as part of a revision of the DPRK’s radio law, that came days after a report said embassies had deliberately established open WiFi networks to allow locals with unrestricted access to the Internet.
Such a problem was hinted at in the government’s letter to embassies announcing the ban: “Signals of regional wireless network, installed and being used without licence, produce some effect upon our surroundings.”
Then, the country’s sole cellular carrier began deactivating SIM cards used by tourists as they left the country. The reason for the new policy was unclear but it does stop active Koryolink SIM cards from being smuggled back into the country. The SIM cards issued to foreigners support Internet access and international telephone calls — something not supported on SIM cards issued to North Korean citizens.