What is the enemy of tyranny? Is it the ballot box? Is it the bullet box? No! It’s the black market:
North Korea’s isolation from most of the world is not just economic and diplomatic, but technological too. Only about 3 million of its people have access to its domestic telecommunications network, which does not permit access to outside countries. Its internet, meanwhile, is accessible only to the nation’s elites.
But some North Koreans have been able to circumvent these restrictions, thanks to the spread of illegal black market phones into the country. A new report from Amnesty International explains that these smuggled devices—referred to as “Chinese mobile phones,” even if they’re not actually from China—have become an important tool for North Koreans looking to connect with loved ones who have left the country and want to stay in touch.
If their relatives or friends at home don’t already have a “Chinese mobile phone,” the report explains, “often the person who has left will try to send them a phone, for example one bought in South Korea, Japan, or China.”
North Koreans who obtain one of these smartphones can connect with people outside the country by installing a Chinese SIM card in their device. They then must go to a part of the country close to the Chinese border, where they might pick up signal from a neighboring Chinese network.
No matter how repressive of a regime you suffer under the black market is there to provide you the goods you want. Are your overlords preventing you from communicating with the outside world? Never fear! The black market is here to provide you unrestricted telecommunications. Do your overlords prohibit you from owning the most effective means of self-defense? The black market is here to provide you with guns and ammo. Is there some government agency that artificially restricts your access to medication? The black market is here to provide you the medications you need.
The black market has been and continues to be the single greatest enemy to tyranny. By flagrantly providing illicit goods the black market shows that the emperor wears no clothes.