President Obama signed an executive order today aimed at the regimes in Iran and Syria authorizing sanctions against companies that use information and communications technology to wage human rights abuses in the two countries.
The White House notes that the same Global Positioning System, satellite communications, mobile phone, and internet technology employed by activists across the Middle East and North Africa is being used against them in Syria and Iran.
"The Syrian and Iranian governments are rapidly increasing their capabilities to disrupt, monitor, and track communications networks that are essential to the ability of Syrians and Iranians to communicate with each other and the outside world," the White House said.
"This novel sanctions tool allows us to sanction not just those oppressive governments, but the companies that enable them with technology they use for oppression and the “digital guns for hire” who create or operate systems used to monitor, track, and target citizens for killing, torture, or other grave abuses," the White House said.
The executive order establishes financial and travel sanctions against those who "perpetrate or facilitate "Grave Human Rights Abuses Via Information Technology" in the two countries.
The White House says the sanctions will "degrade the ability of the Syrian and Iranian governments to acquire and utilize such technology to oppress their people, hold accountable those government officials, companies, and individuals committing or facilitating human rights abuses, send a clear message that the United States recognizes and is committed to combating this new and growing human rights threat; further isolate the regimes in Damascus and Tehran and strengthen international norms against using information and communications technology to commit human rights abuses."
The order authorizes sanctions against persons "determined to have operated or directed the operation of, information and communications technology that facilitates computer or network disruption, monitoring or tracking that could assist in or enable serious human rights abuses by or on behalf of the Government of Iran or the Government of Syria; to have sold, leased, or otherwise provided, directly or indirectly, goods, services, or technology to Iran or Syria likely to be used to facilitate computer or network disruption, monitoring or tracking that could assist in or enable serious human rights abuses by or on behalf of Iran or Syria;
- · To have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, those activities; or
- · To be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the order."
"We will implement this sanctions instrument consistent with our strong belief in the need to ensure that the citizens of Syria and Iran have access to information and communications technology that facilitates their access to information and ability to protect and organize themselves in the face of oppression," the White House said, adding that the order "underscores our efforts to help the Syrian and Iranian people pierce through the 'electronic curtain' that the Syrian and Iranian regimes have put in place."
"The Administration recognizes the importance of preserving the global telecommunications supply chains for essential products and services, and will take great care to ensure the utilization of sanctions does not disrupt transactions necessary to enable the Syrian and Iranian people to communicate.
"Given the deplorable and deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and Iran, our urgent priority is to pursue sanctions against those two governments and entities and individuals in those countries helping them to commit human rights abuses. The order also authorizes sanctions against third-country entities or individuals where they meet the criteria in the order. "