North Koreans Get Smartphones, and the Regime Keeps Tabs

North Korea has allowed more citizens access to smartphones and an isolated intranet, offering residents who can afford it a new way to communicate and giving the dictatorship new opportunities to monitor its people and bolster its powers.

Defectors interviewed by The Wall Street Journal and recent visitors to Pyongyang said mobile phones are becoming more commonplace, and status symbols. One woman who recently defected said wielding a smartphone at first made her feel proud.

Her views changed, she said, after learning that the government employed people to monitor the devices around the clock.

“There is no country which monopolizes and controls successfully the internet and information as North Korea does,” said

Kang Shin-sam,

an expert on North Korean technology and co-head of the International Solidarity for Freedom of Information in North Korea, a nonprofit based in South Korea.

North Korea now has about four million mobile-phone…

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