North Korea Takes Advantage of Open Source in Tablet Release

One of my hobbies is North Korea-watching; seeing how a dictatorship cut off from the rest of the world evolves segregated from the rest of the world.  Historically, interesting scientific and technological developments that would not be seen in freer society would be made in places like the Soviet Union and even Nazi Germany.  With this in mind, many are interested in North Korean society as although they don’t have the R&D capabilities of the other two relatively cut-off societies, they are clearly headed in a different direction than the rest of the world, a sort of parapatric change, if you will.

One of the more interesting sites for such a hobby is Martyn Williams’s North Korea Tech blog where he catalogs technological and scientific progress in the closed-off country.  I bring this up because he posted a story that has been a pretty big deal for North Korea watchers over the past week:

The hardware aspect is probably not important, as tablets have been released before in North Korea and evidence suggests that they aren’t actually produced in North Korea, but in China, where they are then sent to Show Assembly Lines so that the media can produce photos showing that they are, in fact, made in Korea.Image

This photo, also courtesy of the North Korea Tech blog, is one such photo; notice how the screen is on while the assemblers are drilling where there aren’t supposed to be any screws.

Anyway, the real story here is that this newest tablet appears to have an Android Operating System, which brings up a potentially troubling problem in the Open Source movement.  US law prohibits such American Open Source software reaching North Korea. However, considering that the Source Code of such software is essentially posted online for anyone to access, clearly this isn’t going to stop the North Koreans from using it and marketing it as their own development.

Now, North Korea does have a separate form of censored intranet and naturally have computers at their Schools, Military Complexes and Universities; each with their own foreign-made Operating Systems, but this ability to get Open Source Software may allow them to increase the quality of their Cyber-Infrastructure as to spread more faulty information amongst it’s people.  It should be troubling to people involved with the GNU and similar projects that software based on transparency is being used in such a non-transparent way.

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