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N. Korea cracks down on users of falsely-registered cell phones

North Korea recently amended its mobile telecommunications law to prevent its citizens from using cell phones registered under other people’s names, Daily NK has learned.

“The law was revised because phones used under borrowed names have spread across the entire country due to the indiscriminate sale of mobile phones and SIM cards,” a Daily NK reporting partner in Pyongyang said Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There continue to be cases where people can’t be punished because the phones they are using illegally aren’t in their own names.”

At North Korean markets, people can buy second-hand mobile phones that are registered under other people’s names. North Koreans have long avoided snooping by the authorities by using phones under another person’s name, otherwise known as daepo phones. Through a recent revision to its mobile telecommunications law, the government has begun full-scale efforts to eradicate this phenomenon.

“The government released all sorts of mobile phones in the past to earn lots of foreign exchange, so as long as you paid in dollars, you could buy SIMs or devices,” said the reporting partner. “Part of the reason the government has revised the law is to correct a situation that has caused problems for a long period of time.”

Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea released two to three new smartphones a year from 2017 to 2020. These devices were quite expensive, but they proved to be big hits among North Koreans. The supply of those mobile phones had an impact on the spread of daepo phones in North Korea, according to the reporting partner.

“From the government’s perspective, [earning] dollars is important, but the authorities believe the illegal use of mobile phones is more dangerous,” he said. “They view the [elimination of daepo phones] as an important government priority.”

In fact, through new revisions to the mobile telecommunications law, North Korea has restricted the use of various services when someone is discovered using a phone under another person’s name.

The revised mobile telecommunications law bars users from receiving repairs or service on mobile phones unless their phones are under their own name, and also stipulates that service centers should report these users to the authorities. The revisions also call for first-time offenders to be subject to education; if they are caught a second time, however, they are to be punished as repeat offenders and even face punishments that they would have otherwise faced after their first offense.

The revised law also calls on the authorities to confiscate mobile phones without programs to scrub South Korean-style speech, and for the offender’s name to be added to an electronic services system that prevents them from purchasing phone numbers or mobile phones for three years. “This all means that offenders can’t purchase SIM cards or phones under another person’s name,” the reporting partner said. “Violators of the law can face up to four to seven years at a reeducation camp.”

The law’s revisions will make it difficult for North Koreans to use daepo phones going forward, he continued.

“The government wants to make money through the sale of mobile phones and hefty monthly phone bills, and is now using the law to place restrictions [on how people use cell phones],” the reporting partner said, adding, “I feel like things were better when we didn’t have cell phones.”

Another reason the government revised the mobile telecommunications law was to combat the growing number of young North Koreans purchasing applications aimed at circumventing security systems on North Korean cell phones, the reporting partner said.

North Korea uses domestically-developed security systems to prevent users from copying or sending new files with their smartphones or installing applications. These systems even track which applications people use. Many North Koreans have responded to these restrictions by installing circumvention software. DailyNK

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