President Barack Obama has announced new sanctions against individuals and entities that use information and communications technologies to facilitate the Syrian and Iranian regimes’ commission of grave human rights abuses against their people:
“These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them. And 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.”
Authorized by an executive order signed by President Obama, the sanctions relating to the misuse of communications technology were imposed on the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, (the GID), and its Director Ali Mamluk. Mr. Mamluk has overseen a communications program which has been implicated in the arbitrary arrests of regime opponents, mistreatment and death of detainees in custody, and has received technical and analytical help from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
The Syrian communications firm Syriatel was also designated for recording cell phone conversations and severing network connections in Syria at the behest of the Assad regime.
Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, its Law Enforcement Forces, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Guard Cyber Defense Command were named in the new executive order as well. Their abuses include identifying Internet users through their IP address, monitoring e-mail and online activity of individuals critical of the regime; requiring owners of Internet cafes in Iran to install equipment to aid the government in monitoring the activities of the Iranian public; and involvement in the arrest, beatings, sexual abuse, prolonged interrogations, and coerced confessions of political prisoners.
The Iranian internet service provider Datak Telecom was also named for its collaboration with Iranian authorities to provide information on Iranians trying to circumvent the regime’s filters.
In a fact sheet, the White House emphasized that the sanctions take aim at both the “oppressive governments” of Syria and Iran, as well as “the companies that enable them with technology they use for oppression and the ‘digital guns for hire’ who create or operate systems used to monitor, track and target citizens for killing, torture or other grave abuses.” In his executive order President Obama said the serious human rights abuses against the people of Iran and Syria by their governments through the malign use of technology “threaten the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”