On Monday President Obama issued an executive order that will allow U.S. officials to impose sanctions against foreign nationals found to have used new technologies such as cellphone tracking and Internet monitoring to help carry out human rights abuses.
The order is the first of its kind and is designed to address the uptick by authoritarian governments like Syria and Iran in suing social media and cellphone technology to crack down on dissent by conducting surveillance, blocking access to the Internet or tracking the movements of opposition figures.
President Obama announced the executive order ruing a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The order is designed to target companies and individuals assisting the governments of Syria and Iran, though future executive orders could name others aiding other countries who are embracing technology as a way to stamp out dissent.
The speech also highlights the priority the president places on genocide prevention including his request for the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate–a consensus view of all US intelligence agencies–appraising the potential for mass killings in countries around the world and their implication for US interests.
In addition to the executive order the president announced a set of US development “challenge” grants designed to encourage technology companies to develop new ways to help residents in countries vulnerable to mass killings better detect and quickly alert others of impending dangers and a high-level government panel to serve as a clearninghouse for real-time intelligence, policymaking and other issues related to mass killing.
Underscoring the announcement has been recent criticism from the right that the president is not doing enough to deal with the situation in Syria. President Obama has called for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and imposed a set of economic sanctions against the government, but those have largely gone ignored. The executive order announced today includes new sanctions such as a US visa ban and financial restrictions on two Syrian “entities,” one Syrian individual and four Iranian entities.
The executive order represents another step in the right direction by the Obama administration in addressing the atrocities in Syria and elsewhere. And it’s important to remember this administration already has a better record than predecessors in taking African unrest seriously. It’s a somber, important announcement and one that hopefully will save lives.
Photo from FreedomHouse2 via flickr.