While technology today plays a strong part in democracy movements – witness how important services like Twitter (News - Alert) were during Egypt's pro-democracy revolution – the opposite can be said, as well. New communications technologies have also been actively used in the suppression of democracy movements.
President Obama has issued an executive order that will allow the U.S. government to slap sanctions on foreign nationals found to have used technologies such as cell phone tracking or Internet monitoring to commit human rights abuses. The announcement was made during a speech the president gave at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The Washington Post is reporting today that several authoritarian governments, particularly in Syria and Iran, have directed their security agencies to use technology to help crack down on dissent by conducting surveillance, blocking access to the Internet or tracking the movements of opposition figures.
The president has noted that U.S. national security policy must recognize the importance technology plays in the world today and understand how it can be used for good and used for ill, say senior administration officials. The order announced today will target companies and individuals found to be assisting the governments of Iran and Syria. However, White House officials say that future executive orders “could name others aiding other countries through technology in crackdowns on dissent,” reported the Washington Post.
More specifically, the order will freeze any U.S. assets linked to people found to have aided satellite, computer and phone network monitoring in Syria, where more than 9,000 people have been killed in the last year of unrest in that country, as well as Iran, where Washington believes authorities are clamping down on any political opposition and dissident groups, Reuters (News - Alert) reported today.