The North Korean government has issued a decree banning foreign embassies and international organizations from continuing to use Wi-Fi in the country.
On August 13, the State Radio Regulatory Department sent a decree to all “diplomatic missions and international organizations” in the country informing them that their right to use Wi-Fi and regional wireless networks has been “abolished.”
In the decree, which was published by NK News, the State Radio Regulatory Department tells the foreign entities that it has the “honor to inform [them] that the signals of regional wireless network… produce some effect upon our surroundings. Therefore, it is kindly notified that the regional wireless network is abolished.”
Anyone found violating the law will be subject to a fine of up to 1.5 million North Korean Wons (roughly $11,500 at North Korea’s official exchange rate, according to North Korea Tech.) It directs the foreign entities to dismantle all their Wi-Fi equipment immediately.
At the same time, the decree does hold open the possibility that foreign entities wishing to use Wi-Fi in the future may be granted licenses to do so after undergoing a “consultation” with the regulatory body. It does not give any indication as to what the criteria would be for being granted a license.
The decree is not altogether surprising as Wi-Fi networks directly threaten the North Korean government’s efforts to maintain a monopoly on information in the country. NK News notes that satellite internet access “allows for foreigners to send information and data at almost no risk of interception from local authorities.”
But it’s not only foreigners who have been taking advantage of this unfettered internet access. As The Diplomat reported last month, many North Korean citizens have been using the Wi-Fi signals from the embassies to gain unfettered access to the world wide web via their phones and other mobile devices. Indeed, the price of housing near the embassies has skyrocketed in recent months as well-to-do North Koreans seek to enjoy the foreign embassies’ Wi-Fi signals from the comfort of their own home. The North Korean government will most likely only issue licenses when it is confident that ordinary citizens will not be able to use an embassy’s signal.
News of the ban on foreigners using Wi-Fi in the isolated country comes just days after Reuters reported that the North Korean government has begun cracking down on the mobile phone SIM cards it issues to foreigners in the country. Specifically, foreigners in the DPRK are granted special SIM cards that allow them to access international websites — including Facebook and Twitter — through the Koryolink domestic network.
Reuters reported earlier this month, however, that the government now deactivates foreigners’ SIM cards once they leave the country. The move appeared to be aimed at preventing foreigners from giving their mobile phones to ordinary citizens when they leave the North Korea, which would allow the citizens to access the world wide web.
The tightening of restrictions on foreigners’ ability to access the global internet while in North Korea underscores the tight balancing act the government is trying to maintain. On the one hand, the government must maintain tight control over the information that is available to its citizens. On the other hand, North Korea under Kim Jong-un has sought to boost foreign investment and tourism as a way of improving the country’s economy. These two goals are often at odds.