A tiny USB memory stick is unlikely to bring down Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, but thousands upon thousands of them just might help enlighten the North Korean people to the freedoms enjoyed by the outside world, according to human-rights activists.
The New York-based Human Rights Foundation and Forum 280, a Silicon Valley nonprofit, have teamed up to launch a program that will collect donated USB flash drives, load them with content ranging from “South Korean soap operas to Hollywood films to Korean-language versions of Wikipedia to interviews with North Korean defectors,” and smuggle them into the North for ordinary North Koreans to enjoy.
The goal of the initiative, dubbed “Flash Drives for Freedom,” is to turn our dust-collecting electronic has-beens into a cheap conduit of information for some of the nearly 25 million inhabitants living under what the West considers one of the world’s most oppressive regimes.
“In the world’s most closed society, flash drives are valuable tools of education and discovery,” the program’s website says. “In a society without Internet, with total government censorship, and with no independent media, North Koreans rely on these little pieces of plastic. Filled with films, books, and explainers, they are windows to the outside world.”
Organizers say the pre-loaded memory sticks would be given to North Korean refugee-led organizations, which would then work to smuggle them into the North.
Few North Koreans have access to a Mac or PC, so they won’t be plugging the flash drive into a traditional desktop computer, according to Human Rights Foundation’s Alex Gladstein. But many do have Notels, which are portable media players made in China that have USB and SD ports. And cheap tablets and smartphones with USB ports are also becoming popular, Gladstein said.
HRF hopes the program will raise the world’s awareness of the hardships faced by North Koreans, as well provide North Koreans with a taste of life beyond their borders.
“Obviously, one flash drive is not going to depose Kim Jongng-un, Gladstein told NBC News, “but it could change the life of a North Korean.”