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Silicon Valley to Host North Korea Hackathon

Tech giants will team up with North Korean defectors to develop strategies for tapping information into the tightly restricted country.

Silicon Valley is gearing up to brainstorm how to plug information into a country that bars Internet access.

San Francisco will host about 100 people for its first-ever, invite-only “hackathon,” organized by the Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based global nonprofit that targets closed societies. The two-day "Hack North Korea" effort begins August 2, with a goal of creating new ways to disseminate information in the tightly-restricted nation, by working through South Korea.

"We thought it would be useful to build a bridge between Seoul and the Bay Area," said Alex Gladstein, the foundation’s director of institutional affairs.

This isn’t the first time the foundation has tried to infiltrate North Korea with ideas and information. Representatives have visited Seoul twice this year to discuss innovative strategies with defector-led groups or activists. Earlier this year, they tried launching balloons carrying pro-democracy leaflets and DVD films over the border from Paju, South Korea. Other existing efforts include the transmission of radio broadcasts and black markets at the border.

"It’s more about how to overcome technical challenges rather than bring peace to some area,” Gladstein said. "It's changing the country, and so we’ve seen the impact they have is large."