Friday, May 24, 2013

Scrutinizing North Korea in the information era: crowdsourcing and satellite imagery

In the new globally-networked information environment, it would seem that the North Korean government's efforts to control the flow of information in and out of the country are facing multiple new challenges.  These include crowd-sourcing and the increased use of publicly available satellite imagery by North Korean watchers, both individuals and groups, around the world.
For example, DigitalGlobe has been working for the past several years with the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea to monitor activity at political prisoner camps in North Korea.  A report published in February of this year focused on a facility commonly known as Camp No. 25.  (click on the graphic to see a full size version of the photo here, one of many contained in the report.)
Another example, as reported by Computerworld and in other media, involved an Australian software engineer, David Jorm, who recently completed a weather study that focused on the famine in North Korea during the 1990s.  At a conference in Australia, he said “My research was around using satellite data to try and map the impact of the famine. I had a theory that because people would be harvesting crops before they were ready this would result in land degradation. From satellite sensing, you would be able to see that they had a certain level of agricultural productivity and after the famine it was reduced. I did this research and proved that this is what happened.” As Jorm noted in his presentation, there are a variety of free and commercial sources of satellite imagery available today. For example, Google Maps now contains names of towns, provinces and street names in North Korea. This was due to crowd-sourced information entered into Google's online Map Maker tool.

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