North Korea’s Kim Secretly Monitoring Citizens With Video Footage

nk-soldier-video-camera-sept-2012-crop.jpg A North Korean soldier films Pyongyang from the city's Juche Tower in a file photo.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un is monitoring the lives of citizens through secretly filmed video footage, sources inside the country said, citing his recently introduced order requiring the packaging and quality of domestic goods to match that of those produced for export.

Multiple sources, who spoke to RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity, said Kim alluded to the footage during a July 5 meeting held at the Central Committee of the North Korean Workers’ Party, where he issued the edict, effective July 1.

“The meeting started with Kim Jong Un discussing video filmed at Pyongyang’s Dongdaemun Market, Pyongsong Station, and Nampo city’s Kangso Market [both in South Pyongan province],” said one source from North Hamgyong province, near the border with China.

“It is assumed that Kim checked product quality and packaging by watching secretly filmed footage,” the source added.

“[According to the order] tobacco products, North Korea-China joint-produced sweets, beauty products, Naegohyang [in English, my hometown] brand sports apparel, and luxury athletic shoes must show no difference in quality or packaging between domestic and export versions.”

Beyond his concern over the monitoring of markets and other public areas around the country, the source also questioned the need for individual vendors to package handmade farm products or “8.3 Consumer Goods,” referring to a movement to create locally-sourced consumer goods to supplement state production initiated by Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, in the 1980s.

“Domestic goods are of low quality compared to goods produced for export, but they are still competitive because of their low price,” the source said, suggesting that improving their quality and appearance would be a waste of time and money.

The 8.3 Movement, which takes its name from its launch date of Aug. 3, ordered factories and enterprises to source their own inputs, and production facilities to produce commodities in addition to what was planned by the state.

In the 1990s, workers began to shirk their duties and make their own goods for sale at markets through cottage industries—the profits of which they would share in part with the state.

Like father, like son

A source from Yanggang province confirmed that Kim had referenced the video monitoring of public areas last week while introducing his order on product quality, which he said specifically referred to “instruments and medical goods produced by regional ‘Honorable Soldiers Factories’ and ‘light labor workplaces.’”

He added that the practice of monitoring places where goods are traded, and other public spaces, was initiated by the elder Kim, who died of a heart attack in December 2011.

“When Kim Jong Il was alive, he established a policy of allowing black markets and regularly checked secretly filmed video footage of Pyongyang’s Songsin Market,” the source said, where, according to a popular North Korean saying, “one can buy everything except a cat’s horns.”

“There were many times that he kept up with domestic situations by watching secretly filmed video footage,” he added.

But the source questioned how the younger Kim could implement new policies and claim to understand popular sentiment based simply on monitoring the public from afar.

“Having basic person-to-person contact with local residents is not enough to know what is in mind of the public and does not give a sense of domestic politics,” he said.

“How can secret video footage filmed by officials be so helpful for him to understand domestic situations?”

Reported by Sunghui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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