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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.

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