Google Maps makes North Korean prison camps visible

Jan 29, 2013 | News

Photo courtesy Google Maps

Photo courtesy Google Maps

Compiled by Amber Daugherty

Google maps now show details in North Korea, a country known for being secretive – even to the online giant.

Photos are now available showing various landmarks – Kim Il-sung Square, The Grand Theatre and subway stops – in Pyongyang, the country’s capital.

Included on the maps are large gray areas, indicating the outlines of some of the country’s gulags – political prison camps.

There’s a lot of secrecy surrounding the camps. A few years ago, a man escaped from what is considered to be one of the worst – Camp 14. He has since shared his story and written a book about his experiences.

Last year, the BBC reported new research had come out about the camps. It suggested there are more than 150,000 prisoners in them right now – most of whom are considered to be enemies to the government.

The research also shed light on horrific stories told by guards and prisoners who have escaped from the camps. People are expected to labour in mines and factories, and those who try to escape or eat more than their allotted amount of food can face consequences as serious as execution.

The newly detailed maps show buildings in some of the gulags – including a theatre, guard’s washroom, and weapons store in Gulag 22, located at the northern border of the country.

Google’s Map Maker put the map together. A blog post from Google referred to the system as “a community of citizen cartographers.” Much like Wikipedia, other people confirm the inputted information before it’s added to Google Maps.

There has been speculation that the launching of the updated map has something to do with Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s trip to North Korea at the start of the year.

Schmidt announced before his trip that he was going to discuss “free and open internet.”

American New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson accompanied Schmidt on his trip, and he described the trip as a “private, humanitarian” mission.

After the trip, the Guardian reported that Schmidt gave one of the only glimpses into what it’s like to try to access the world wide web many Westerners take advantage of every day.

He said students showed him how they used the internet – with someone literally standing behind them, watching what they were doing.

It’s assumed most people in the state that’s heavily controlled by the government have never used the internet.

But Schmidt said if the country doesn’t want to fall behind, they will have to change that.

“As the world becomes increasingly connected, the North Korean decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world and their economic growth,” he said.

“It will make it harder for them to catch up economically.”

Google’s blog shows North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, before details were added:

And after details were added:

Political Camp 22’s check point is seen in this photo:

Photo courtesy Google Maps

Photo courtesy Google Maps

Camp 22’s theatre, weapons stores and other buildings can be seen when zoomed in:

Photo courtesy Google Maps

Photo courtesy Google Maps