Silicon Valley to host North Korea hackathon

A two-day “hackathon” plans to harness the technical prowess of Silicon Valley to come up with new ways to get information safely into North Korea. Hack North Korea, scheduled to take place in San Francisco on August 2-3, is organized by the Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based group that focuses on closed societies.

Several prominent North Korean defectors will attend the event including pro-democracy activist Park Sang-hak, former North Korean child prisoner Kang Chol-hwan, media personality Park Yeon-mi and Kim Heung-Kwang, a former professor in computer studies in North Korea. They are expected to speak on the methods currently used to get information into the country, which include CDs and DVDs, USB sticks, shortwave radio, and leaflets dropped from balloons.

Organisers said they are not encouraging hacking in the sense of gaining unauthorised access to data, but is instead hoping to “spark better ideas for getting information into the world’s most closed and isolated society”. Participants will become familiar with the various ways that information and truth are smuggled into North Korea today, and gain an understanding of the technology landscape inside the country.

Earlier this year, helped HRF to launch balloons carrying USB flash drives loaded with Korean-language Wikipedia as well as pro-democracy materials and DVDs with South Korean dramas, so that they could float from the launch site in Paju, in South Korea, across the border into the North.

Park Sang-hak also visited Silicon Valley with HRF, to improve GPS tracking on the balloons, so that the group can try and follow what happens to the balloons once they cross the border.

[The Guardian]

North Korean dissidents seek Silicon Valley’s help

In this age of smartphones and the Internet, it’s hard to believe that the best ways to send pro-democracy messages into North Korea involve dropping paper leaflets from weather balloons and smuggling DVDs and flash drives across the Chinese border.

But two North Koreans who were able to escape from a nation where the Internet is outlawed now hope to hone their methods with the help of Silicon Valley companies and tech professionals.

“The problems they have are a five-finger exercise for a lot of the engineers we meet here,” said Alex Gladstein of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, who helped arrange the visit of the North Korean dissidents. “Each parcel of truth that makes it in is another crack in the totalitarian wall.”

The Northern California trip with dissidents Park Sang Hak, who launches the weather balloons, and Kang Chol-Hwan, who smuggles in the DVDs, comes just days after the United Nations condemned the North Korean regime led by Kim Jong Un. A nearly 400-page report details prison-camp atrocities such as starvation, torture, forced abortions, murder, rape and “other grave sexual violence.”

Change to North Korea must come from within, the dissidents told a crowd.  “The ultimate goal is to make North Koreans enraged about their leadership, make them rise up by themselves and cooperate with each other so they can change internally,” said Park, who won the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent and is president of the Fighters for Free North Korea Association, based in Seoul, South Korea’s capital. “It definitely needs to be from the bottom up.”

[Contra Costa Times]