South Korea smartphones sought after by North Korea agents

SEOUL, Aug. 1 (UPI) — North Korean party officials secretly covet South Korean smartphones.

The practice of acquiring smartphones from South Korean brands Samsung and LG is growing among North Korean agents who are dispatched overseas to monitor the activities of laborers earning money for the regime, South Korean news service Daily NK reported.

A source in China told Daily NK “North Korea officials try hard” to purchase a Samsung or LG smartphone once outside the country.

The source also said with a South Korean smartphone in hand, North Korean agents have an “easier time accessing the Internet” than “ordinary workers.”

“They use [the information] to debate their assessments of the North Korea regime and its future prospects,” the source added.

North Korean agents have access to news of the outside world but the smartphones are increasingly used to keep abreast of North Korea news from state broadcasters, the source said.

But inspections of agents’ belongings mean they must act carefully. They often hide the phones in a designated site, and “look the other way” if a colleague is believed to be hiding a South Korean smartphone.

There are signs the North Korean authorities are quietly permitting the use of smartphones despite crackdowns in the past.

In May a report noted North Korea was tightening restrictions on mobile phone communications with the outside world.

Kim Jong Un had instructed security agents to charge North Koreans with treason if they were found using phones to call South Korea.

North Korea has about 3 million mobile phone users but calls and Internet access are limited to the country.

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