Obama announces cybersanctions against Syria, Iran to stop 'digital guns for hire'


President Barack Obama (R) hugs Elie Wiesel before a speech at the Holocaust Museum in the Hall of Remembrance at the Holocaust Museum April 23, 2012 in Washington, DC. Obama announced new sanctions against Iran and Syria for entities and people using technology to target citizens.



President Obama announced new cybersanctions against Syria and Iran on Monday, as part of the United States' attempt to stop the perpetration of human rights abuses with technology. 

“These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them,” Obama said in a speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Monday in Washington, DC, the New York Times reported. “It’s one more step toward the day that we know will come, the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people.”

Though cell phones and social media have been key tools in fueling rebellions in Libya and Egypt, some regimes are using modern technology to track dissidents or block Internet access, the Associated Press reported. Iran, for example, has provided Assad's Syrian regime with technology to jam cell phones and block or monitor social networking sites utilized to organize demonstrations, according to the AP. 

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The sanctions are part of a wider effort by the United States to stem violence and oppression worldwide, as pressure mounts for Obama to shepherd an international solution to the lethal crackdown by President Bashar Assad, the AP reported.

On Monday, the US Treasury announced specific targets of the sanctions, which include Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard, Syria's General Security Directorate and its chief Ali Mamluk, and state-controlled mobile phone company Syriatel, BBC News reported. Six of the seven sanction targets are already under other US sanctions, according to BBC. 

Obama, whose speech was his first appearance at the Holocaust Museum as president, toured it alongside Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel before his speech, BBC reported. 

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“We know from history that the US government and other influential countries have not typically done a good job in preventing genocide and other forms of mass atrocities,” Michael Abramowitz, director of the Holocaust museum’s Committee on Conscience, told the Times. “In theory, the new tools announced today should focus more bureaucratic attention on this problem and empower US policy makers to do a better job in saving lives. But the real test is whether these policy makers have the political will to use the tools effectively.”

Meanwhile, in the US Congress, lawmakers have been working on a bill aimed at stopping American exports of technology used for Internet surveillance or censorship to other countries, Agence France Presse reported. The law would prohibit US companies from exporting such hardware or software to nations that censor the Internet.

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