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Mass surveillance in North Korea is a routine practice employed throughout North Korea.[1] North Korea "operates a vast network of informants who monitor and report to the authorities fellow citizens they suspect of criminal or subversive behavior."[2] North Korea has been described as a "massive police state", and its people "under constant surveillance".[3][4]



One author wrote:[5]

Seemingly, every aspect of a person's existence in North Korea is monitored. This oversight of citizens has extended beyond wired microphones and wiretapping of fixed-line and mobile phones. Microphones are now even being used outdoors to pick up conversations. There is a general sense that it is dangerous to engage in any serious conversation about sensitive topics when three or more people gather at one place, regardless of how friendly they may be.

All computers are subject to random checks by authorities and must be registered with the government. Some computers may access the national intranet, called Kwangmyong, but true Internet access is restricted to the "super-elites".[6][7] North Korean officials stationed abroad generally have their internet access monitored by staff.[6]

Western companies have been criticized for selling surveillance technology to repressive regimes, including North Korea.[8][9] In order to "tighten surveillance over the populations in the border regions", surveillance teams were switched from five people to three.[10][11]


The three major surveillance organizations in North Korea are the State Security Department, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), and the Military Security Command (MSC).[4]

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea reports that North Korea operates a "massive, multilevel system of informants", rewarding informers with gifts. That informant network is run by the State Security Department (SSD), which controls at least 50,000 personnel, and the SSD maintains a network of prisons for individual suspected of "holding unacceptable views".[3] The MPS monitors correspondence and telephone conversations. The Organization and Guidance Department of the Workers' Party of Korea is responsible for investigating and spying on senior officials.[12]

The Ministry of Public Security, the nation's police agency, is estimated to control nearly 140,000 - 210,000 public security personnel.[1][3][13] The current total number of informers for the police is estimated at 200,000 to 300,000, with many more having collaborated in the past.[14]

The Military Security Command of the Korean People's Army (KPA), the country's armed forces, is tasked with monitoring "the activities and political loyalties of [North Korean] military commanders and other KPA officers" and "identifying anyone seen as disloyal".[3][15] The MSC became more prominent in the mid-90s, when there began a rapid increase in defections.[4]

Since all North Koreans are generally expected to be employed at a state place of work, surveillance also takes place at work.[16]

In the 2010sEdit

Over a span of four years, the government purchased about 100,000 closed-circuit television cameras.[17]

Ri Yong-ho, who held the post of Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army, was 'purged' after he was reportedly recorded on wiretap complaining about Kim Jong-un.[18][19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Comparative Criminology | Asia - North Korea". Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  2. ^ Human Rights Watch, 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor, New York, NY 10118-3299 USA ( (10 January 2013). "World Report 2013: North Korea".CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b c d Agence France-Presse (2012-07-19). "Massive police state controls North Korea: study". The Raw Story. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  4. ^ a b c "DailyNK". DailyNK. 2013-12-26. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
  5. ^ YOSHIHIRO MAKINO/ Correspondent (2013-11-06). "INSIDE PYONGYANG (1): Kim Jong Un's dictatorship intensifies in North Korea - AJW by The Asahi Shimbun". Archived from the original on 2014-02-03. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  6. ^ a b "JPRI Working Paper No. 118". Retrieved 2014-01-30.
  7. ^ Lankov 2015.
  8. ^ Ryan Gallagher. "Governments turn to hacking techniques for surveillance of citizens | Technology". Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  9. ^ Trevor Timm (2012-02-07). "Time to Act on Companies Selling Mass Spy Gear to Authoritarian Regimes | Electronic Frontier Foundation". Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Strict Surveillance for Kaesong Workers". Daily NK. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Systematic Tyranny: How the Kim Dynasty Holds the North Korean People In Bondage". Forbes. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
  14. ^ Lankov 2015, p. 275.
  15. ^ "Military Security Command". 2010-12-22. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
  16. ^ Lankov 2015, p. 124.
  17. ^ "North Korea steps up surveillance of citizens with 16,000 CCTV cameras". Telegraph. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  18. ^ "Reports: Wiretap led to Ri's ouster in N. Korea; firefight killed 20". World Tribune. 2012-08-02. Archived from the original on 2014-02-03. Retrieved 2014-01-28.
  19. ^ Yoon, Sangwon (2012-07-15). "North Korea Promotes General After Kim Jong Un Fires Army Chief". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2014-01-28.

Works citedEdit

  • Lankov, Andrei (2015). The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-939003-8.

Further readingEdit

  • Lankov, Andrei Nikolaevich; Kwak, In-ok; Cho, Choong-Bin (2016). "The Organizational Life: Daily Surveillance and Daily Resistance in North Korea". Journal of East Asian Studies. 12 (02): 193–214. doi:10.1017/S1598240800007839. ISSN 1598-2408.