North Korea as Revealed by Google Earth, Citizen Activists

For many years, citizen activists have been pooling information about North Korea in order to reveal the locations of hidden prisons and other sites of interest in the humanitarian effort to effect greater transparency on the isolated regime.

However, according to a new piece in The Wall Street Journal, many new activists have been using online mapping tools like Google Earth to try to piece together a better understanding of the Hermit Kingdom.

Curtis Melvin, a doctoral candidate at George Mason University in Virginia, has also included information from former members of the U.S. military who once studied the country professionally, to create a more informative map of the country.

“Once you start mapping the power plants and substations and wires, you can connect the infrastructure with the elite compounds,” Melvin told the Journal. “And then you see towns that have no power supply at all.”

Melvin’s work, and the work of other individuals, illustrate how collective intelligence, coupled with available technology, has a shrinking effect on our world; that the spread of knowledge cannot be contained and that governmental secrecy is facing a new challenge from the Internet.

Joshua Stanton, who maintains the website Free Korea has mapped out the confines of Camp 22, a labor camp and detention facility on the northeastern tip of North Korea.

“Camp 22 is said to hold 50,000 men, women, and children. We can only see one portion of the camp with Google Earth’s high-resolution photography,” Stanton said in an interview with the paper.

The use of digital maps to learn more about labor camps and other secret facilities has also aided human rights activists like David Hawk, who, published a 2003 paper titled “The Hidden Gulag” on behalf of the independent U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

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