Obama Sets Sanctions Against 'Digital Guns For Hire'
April 23, 2012

Obama Sets Sanctions Against ‘Digital Guns For Hire’

President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Iran, Syria and "digital guns for hire" who use technology to carry out human rights abuses.

He announced the new sanctions during a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, asking U.S. intelligence groups to include assessments of the likelihood of mass killings in its coordinated reports.

"National sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your people," he said during his speech. "These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them."

The sanctions are against the government of Syria and Iran "and those who abet them, for using technologies to monitor, target and track its citizens for violence."

The measures also include companies that help create systems that track or monitor people to kill, torture or abuse and prevent individuals from entering the U.S.

"It's one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come, the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people, and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny," he said during the speech.

Although mobile and social technology in some countries have helped bring political and regime changes in some Middle East countries, others have used technology to track dissidents or block Internet access.

The move targets those who have sold, leased or provided goods, services or technology to Iran or Syria likely to be used to help disrupt, monitor or track individuals through Internet networks.

A number of companies in Western nations have been accused of supplying technology and software to repressive regimes, which have been used to track demonstrators and dissidents.

According to a BBC News report, Iran has provided the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with programs that jam mobile phones.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Internet firms last year to avoid offering the "tools of oppression" to Middle Eastern regimes.

She warned companies to turn over sensitive information to governments about dissidents or shut down social networking accounts of activists involved in political debate.

"When companies sell surveillance equipment to the security agency of a Syria, or Iran, or in past times (former Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi) there can be no doubt that it will be used to violate rights," she said in a speech last year.

Lawmakers are trying to push a bill that would prohibit American companies from exporting hardware or software that could be used for online surveillance or censorship to nations that restrict the Internet.

The bill would also require Internet companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to disclose to American regulators their practices in collecting and sharing personally identifiable information, and steps taken to notify users when removing content.

Obama said on Monday that the government Atrocities Prevention Board he set up in 2011 would do more to identify threats of looming atrocities and try to make the U.S. government more nimble and effective.

The president said the board will meet for the first time on Monday at the White House.  It includes members from several government departments, including State, Defense, Treasury, Justice and Homeland Security.

"Across government, alert channels will make sure that information about unfolding crises and dissenting opinions reach decision-makers, including me," Obama said.

"Our Treasury Department will work more quickly to deploy its financial tools to block the flow of money to abusive regimes," the president said. "Our military will take additional steps to incorporate the prevention of atrocities into its doctrine and its planning. The State Department will surge our diplomats and experts in a crisis."

He said that this board is "not an afterthought", but a "sidelight of our foreign policy."