Smuggling USB Drives to North Korea

August 12, 2016 3 min read

flash drives for freedom

Smuggled USB Drives Are Providing Information to a “Darkened” North Korean People

While obsolete and nearly worthless in most industrialized, modern nations, the lowly flash drive is being re-purposed by a human rights group to bring enlightenment to millions of North Koreans currently living in the relative Dark Ages.

Human Rights Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on human rights and liberal democracy in closed societies, has been working with Forum 280 and Jung Gwang-il, founder of No Chains, an organization that uses drones to fly digital storage devices like USB thumb drives and SD cards into North Korea, to provide real world information to the knowledge starved people suffering from the current oppressive regime.

freeing north korea with flash drives

“To us, it’s important that North Koreans tell the world about the horrors of what’s happening to their people, but it’s much more important - as far as a solution - for us to tell North Koreans about what’s going on in the outside world,” says Alex Gladstein, the Chief Strategy Office of HRF.

Together they formed an initiative called Flash Drives For Freedom, which collects donations in the form of money for operations, and of course these storage devices filled with information such as Western and South Korean films and TV shows, Korean-language versions of Wikipedia, interviews with past defectors, and entire e-books.

Once these memory sticks are loaded up, they are distributed among North Korean refugee-led organizations, who then work to smuggle them into the North - a risk that can often result in death.

freeing north korea with flash drives

Using Notels - cheap, portable media players made in China, currently more ubiquitous than smartphones or computers - North Koreans plug in the drives to a USB port and are met with a conduit of information that has, up until now, not been available to them.

The hope behind these actions is to provide the North’s citizens with a glimpse of life outside of North Korea’s borders.  Many citizens there have a false paradigm of America, their Southern neighbor, and even their own poverty-stricken homeland.  The organizations believe this influx of new information will lead to North Koreans becoming more aware of how mistreated they are and what opportunities lay outside of the border.

Mr. Gladstein goes on to say, “The don’t know what’s going on.  Ultimately, we believe it’s going to be an education and information solution, it’s not going to be a military or diplomacy solution.  This is basically down to a knowledge awakening.”

So How Can I Help?

The process is quite simple:  Gather up your old flash drives and mail them to the address provided on the FDFF website.  From there, a bunch of empathetic angels will pack ‘em up and send them to the proper organizations for distribution inside the secretive nation.

“We want people to do something with the stuff that’s just lying around your house,” says Gladstein.  “Or lying around ideally in your company’s closet, where maybe you made 1,000 flash drives for CES or some conference and you only used 400 of them.”

Not only are you helping North Koreans, but you’re also helping to bring awareness to the rest of the world.  “For the outside world, it’s an awareness thing,” says Galdstein.  “An awareness that this little piece of plastic could be quite influential in someone’s life somewhere else.  It might be an obsolete piece of junk to you, but it could be totally life-changing and valuable for someone in North Korea.”

This is your chance to pair your philanthropic nature with your rebellious side.  Donate a flash drive today and possibly win the hearts and minds of North Koreans in the future.  And who knows, if enough minds are changed, perhaps you’ll become part of a revolution in the process.

Viva la resistance! 

Curtis Jacobs
Curtis Jacobs

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