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North Koreans Will Use Secret Aerials to Watch Banned TV


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Young developers have recently won a competition to help spread information inside North Korea: they want to design small, easily hidden aerials able to intercept South Korean TV programs. “Hack North Korea”, a two-day “hackathon” arranged by Human Rights Foundation, involved programmers, human rights campaigners and defectors, suggesting to find new ways to bypass the strict controls on the flow of information inside North Korea.


The competition was won by two 17 year-old hackers, who said their aim was to make real-time information available to people in two ways. Their first idea was to use small and flat micro-radio devices based on existing Raspberry Pi technology, which could pick up signals from South Korea. These devices (size of a credit card) would come pre-loaded with videos and information, and would be either dropped by balloons over North Korea, or concealed along traditional trading routes.

Another idea involves creating small, flat satellite receivers to pick up over 200 channels from the South Korean TV broadcaster Skylife. These receivers would be iPad-sized satellite receivers – TV boxes could be directly plugged into the device to allow North Koreans to watch up-to-the–minute news, TV shows, and other culture and programming from the outside world.

The team of two 17 year-old Korean-American siblings also includes Matthew Lee, a former Google employee who currently works on a San Francisco start-up. The group suggested using compact flat antennas, pointing out that the service would be unlikely to be jammed, since it would first target the homes of North Korean elites.

The group won two round-trip air tickets to Seoul to discuss their ideas with defector groups. Within the competitions, there were other suggestions, including the low-tech (using a catapult to fling things across the border from China) and the high-tech (satellites and stenography).

The defector group included several people who also had their own programs. One of them suggested sending leaflets into North Korea via balloon – the outfit already exists, which regularly releases balloons carrying large bags full of propaganda leaflets, DVDs, USB sticks, radios and other items from a point near the inter-Korean border. They say that those bags are timed to release all the stuff they carry after a certain period of time over North Korean soil.


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