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Google's Eric Schmidt Is Going to North Korea

BY Julia Wetherell | Thursday, January 3 2013

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt (Wikimedia Commons)

Reports that Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt will be taking a trip to North Korea sometime early this year have led many to speculate how information technology will play a role in the isolated nation’s future.

The humanitarian visit is reportedly being led by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, an expert on North Korean affairs who has been to the country several times, most recently as an unofficial U.S. envoy during 2010 crisis negotiations.

While it is unlikely that Schmidt will be brokering any business deals for Google in the DPRK, which is under heavy U.S. trade restrictions, he may have an interest in promoting Internet freedoms. A limited state-controlled Internet is currently only accessible to North Korean elites. Many believe that Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un is angling to have technological innovation form the crux of his legacy; after a successful satellite launch in mid-December, his New Year’s Day speech spoke of “a scientific and technological revolution” that will transform the country.

The State Department has already balked at the announcement of the trip, with a spokeswoman saying that tensions over the satellite launch make this an inappropriate time to consider traveling to North Korea. If Google does make an ideological foothold DPRK, could it mean the country will consider tech liberation? In a conference in Israel this past summer, Schmidt bemoaned that, "The World Wide Web has yet to live up to its name," citing that less than a third of the global population has access to the Internet. Bringing everyday North Koreans online would be a humanitarian victory, but in a country where information is controlled as tightly as the population, it seems unlikely.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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