President Obama issued an executive order that will allow United States officials to impose sanctions against foreign nationals that use new technologies to carry out human rights abuses.
Those technologies include social media and cellphone technology that have been widely credited with helping democracy advocates better expose human rights violations, most notably over the past year and a half in the Middle East and North Africa.
Obama unveiled the executive order in a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The order is an acknowledgment of those dangers and of the need to adapt American national security policy to a world being remade rapidly by technology.
Although the order is designed to target companies and individuals assisting the governments of Iran and Syria, future executive orders could name others aiding other countries through technology in crackdowns on dissent.
From the executive order:
I have determined that the commission of serious human rights abuses against the people of Iran and Syria by their governments, facilitated by computer and network disruption, monitoring, and tracking by those governments, and abetted by entities in Iran and Syria that are complicit in those governments’ malign use of technology for those purposes, threaten the national security and foreign policy of the United States. Consistent with the vital importance of providing technology that enables the Iranian and Syrian people to freely communicate with each other and the outside world, as well as the preservation, to the extent possible, of global telecommunications supply chains for essential products and services to enable the free flow of information, the measures in the order are designed primarily to address the need to prevent entities located in whole or in part in Iran and Syria from facilitating or committing serious human rights abuses. To address this situation, the order takes additional steps with respect to the national emergencies described above.