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.
“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.
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.”
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