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Illustration by Greg Ruben / Axios

Three million North Koreans now use the intra-country cell phone network called Koryolink. That may sound like progress, but that cell phone network is just "giving the North Korean government more control," according to a U.S. government-funded report from InterMedia, which assembled its findings based on responses from 34 North Korean defectors.

Why it matters: North Korea is trying to create "the appearance of development and modernization," but it's really seeking new ways to control its populace's media consumption. North Korea's surveillance state now goes "beyond what is observed even in other authoritarian states or closed media environments," the report said, and citizens are subject to monitoring from more than eight ministries and organizations.

  • "TraceViewer," created in 2013 and installed by default on North Korean phones, takes periodic screenshots of browser history and bulk exports the screenshots to inserted memory cards, making it nearly impossible to hide non-state media.
  • With expanded cellphone use, the government now doesn't have to rely on just human raids to gather information; it can monitor cell networks. Plus, jailbreaking North Korean phones is almost impossible, and North Korea doesn't have to rely on ISPs to spy on people in the country's network (as most other countries do), since the service provider is run by the state.
  • Officials use jammers along the Chinese border to prevent North Koreans from using Chinese cellphone signals.

Aside from cell phone monitoring, North Korea's Red Star Operating System seeks out undesirable phrases or sentences in documents and deletes them, reboots computers if users try adding firewalls, and watermarks documents to track their circulation to clamp down on non-state media.

In response, North Koreans are starting to use thumb drives more since they can hold more content and are easier to share or hide during raids than DVDs. And North Koreans keep two televisions: one runs the state channel and is displayed while the other is hidden and used to watch illegal media.

Go deeper

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Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems fear supply-chain blame

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As supply-chain kinks drive up prices and disrupt holiday shopping, Democrats are scrambling to show action and deflect blame.

Why it matters: With their party controlling both the White House and Capitol, vulnerable Democrats worry supply-chain snafus will hurt them in next year's midterms.

2 hours ago - World

Scoop: Germany urges Congress not to sanction Putin’s pipeline

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The German government has urged members of Congress not to sanction the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, arguing that doing so will "weaken" U.S. credibility and "ultimately damage transatlantic unity," according to documents obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: At a time when roughly 100,000 Russian troops are massing at its border, Ukraine views Nord Stream 2 as an existential threat to its security. The pipeline would circumvent Ukrainian transit infrastructure and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany, eliminating one of the last deterrents Ukraine has against an invasion.