Eric Schmidt may have taken a message of Internet evangelism to North Korea recently, but Alec Ross, Hillary Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation within the US State Department is skeptical that it will have any effect at all.
Speaking at the DLD conference in Munich, Germany today, Ross admitted to being a friend of Schmidt’s but expressed doubt that the Internet has any chance of being introduced by the government in North Korea. Schmidt had spoken in the country about the benefits of a free, open Internet.
Speaking onstage to the New York Times’ Nick Bilton, Ross pointed out that the government in Pyongyang “couldn’t get away with it,” because as soon as people in the communist country saw how good life is in neighboring South Korea, they would want to overthrow their government. Instead, he believes that mobile phones being smuggled in are more likely to bring the Internet to the country, initiated by the people themselves.
The US State Department has previously criticised Schmidt’s trip, saying “We don’t think the timing of this is particularly helpful.” However, former New Mexico governor and U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson, who accompanied the Google Executive Chairman, said recently “Eric Schmidt was like a rock star there.”
Ross’ comments at DLD came on the same day that the AFP reported that foreigners visiting North Korea are now permitted to bring their own mobile phones into the country to use with a 3G mobile network via a SIM card they can buy there. A mobile Internet service will be available for foreigners soon, according to the report.
Alec Ross’ work within the US State Department over the past four years has included restoring communication networks in countries such as Libya, after governments have shut down standard connectivity due to attempts by the people to overthrow them.
Other projects have included a ‘panic button’ app that allows dissidents in danger of arrest to wipe their phone’s contents, backing it up to a secure server, and an ‘Internet in a suitcase’ that creates new network when a government shuts down the existing one. Ross said that these boxes are being tested in the field.