Flash Drives for Freedom

If you have a USB thumb drive or two to spare, you can make a difference in North Korea without any sort of violence.

A few weeks ago, we put together a list of six clever uses for your spare thumb drives. Otherwise known as USB sticks, pen drives, or flash drives, these little accessories provide low-cost, portable storage that's easy to come by. So easy, in fact, that many people have spare flash drives lying around, especially following the rise of cloud storage services.

If you haven't put your spare flash drives to use creating backups, vaults, or security keys, there is another philanthropic way you can make sure they don't go to waste, and it's called Flash Drives for Freedom.

Visit the Flash Drives for Freedom website

What is Flash Drives for Freedom?

Flash Drives for Freedom is a campaign jointly created by the Human Rights Foundation, a non-profit organization centered in New York, and Forum280, a non-profit organization located in Silicon Valley. The group aims to amass as many thumb sticks and SD cards as possible, and then load them all with subversive information and smuggle them into North Korea.

In a country where a closed internet is the norm and propaganda is what's for breakfast every day, these flash drives, which contain South Korean soap operas, Hollywood films, Wikipedia pages, political and cultural documentaries, books, and testimonials from escaped ex-residents, give North Koreans trapped in the country a glimpse of what is outside of their borders.

Why? There's nothing more powerful than an educated public, and the first step towards an awakening is actually providing the information needed.

Smuggling flash drives into North Korea

Such an awakening, and an overthrow of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, is, of course, an ideal scenario for man, but Flash Drives for Freedom simply wants to give hope to some people living in that closed country. To get the flash drives into North Korea, balloons are loaded with flash drives and sent into the air to float, pop, and drop over North Korea, according to the group. Or the drives are hidden in the backs of trucks passing over the Chinese border.

Once inside the country, the drives are meant to be found by residents (who are starved for content) and plugged into what they call "notels," which are basically small media players with a few ports on them, including USB ports. Once the flash drives are plugged in, the information begins flowing. Although being caught with outside information usually carries a heavy sentence, the thirst for media contained on these drives leads a majority of citizens to break the rules despite the threat of being shipped off to labor camps, or worse.

How you can help

Flash Drives for Freedom at South by Southwest (SXSW) festival.

Before you load your spare flash drive with your favorite movies, books, and music and tie it to a helium balloon, there is a much easier, more efficient way to get your flash drive into North Korea.

All you have to do is send them to Flash Drives for Freedom via regular post, and they will take care of everything. Make sure you inspect the flash drive first to make sure it's in working order and you didn't forget about a few sensitive pictures or documents. Flash Drives for Freedom will wipe the drives before loading them with content, but it never hurts to do it yourself before sending it away.

Mailing address

You can even get a tax receipt for the flash drives you donate. Just jot down your contact information, and how much you think the flash drives are worth, and include those details in the package.

If you don't have spare flash drives sitting around, you can also donate funds to go toward purchasing flash drives when the donated ones run out.

It's fun to imagine your own extra flash drive being dropped into North Korea, picked up by citizens, and watched in secret. The call for these drives is open indefinitely, but there's really no better time than now to package them up and ship them off.

Visit the Flash Drives for Freedom website