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Eric Schmidt and His Daughter Both Share Thoughts on North Korea Trip

BY Julia Wetherell | Wednesday, January 23 2013

It might not get weirder than this: Sophie Schmidt posts about the North Korea trip.

Google’s Eric Schmidt and his daughter have both shared thoughts online about their visit to North Korea earlier this month, in a delegation led by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

Schmidt, who has confirmed that his presence in the country was partially intended to open up a dialogue about Internet freedom, commented briefly in a January 20 Google+ post that North Korea could use existing digital infrastructure, such as its 3G network, to connect its citizens to the rest of the online world:

It would be very easy for them to turn the Internet on for this 3G network. Estimates are that are about a million and a half phones in the DPRK with some growth planned in the near future.

There is a supervised Internet and a Korean Intranet. (It appeared supervised in that people were not able to use the internet without someone else watching them). There’s a private intranet that is linked with their universities. Again, it would be easy to connect these networks to the global Internet.

His 19-year old daughter Sophie was more candid in her observations, which were posted to a personal Google Site earlier this week. The younger Schmidt provides an extensive chronicle of the surrealism of North Korean life; most notably, she points out that the much photo-opped scene of Schmidt engaging with university students in a computer lab was eerily staged:

Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up.

One problem: No one was actually doing anything. A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in--a noisy bunch, with media in tow--not one of them looked up from their desks. Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines.

That image alone provides a sobering insight into the state of digital freedom for North Koreans, and how far the country will have to go to plug in to the outside world.

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

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