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President Obama Signs Executive Order To Stop Technology From Enabling Atrocities

Braden Holly |
April 23, 2012 | 9:46 a.m. PDT

Executive Producers

A GPS device.  Photo courtesy of Creative Commons
A GPS device. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons
President Obama signed an executive order Sunday that is aimed at stopping human rights abuses that are enabled by the use of new technologies.

The executive order would allow U.S. officials to impose sanctions on those who use technologies such as cellphone tracking and Internet monitoring to carry out these abuses.

Social media and cellphones have been increasingly used as tools of protest or even revolution, most notably in the Arab Spring.  Some countries, fearing the power of social media, have maintained a stranglehold on their citizen’s access to it.

Some countries have gone a step beyond attempting to block their citizens from using these technologies and have been using these new media against them.

The Hill reported:

“These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to oppress them,” Obama said Monday.

The order uses sanctions and a visa ban to target people who have sold or helped implement technology to the Iranian and Syrian governments that facilitates computer or network disruption, monitoring or tracking to enable human-rights abuses.

President Obama announced the order at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony held Monday.

The president has taken steps beyond the signing of this executive order to strengthen U.S. ability to prevent future atrocities.

The Washington Post reported:

To demonstrate the priority he places on genocide prevention, Obama used the address to reveal that he has asked for the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate — the consensus view of all U.S. intelligence agencies — appraising the potential for mass killings in countries around the world and their implication for U.S. interests.

The president also announced a set of U.S. development “challenge” grants designed to encourage technology companies to develop new ways to help residents in countries vulnerable to mass killings better detect and quickly alert others to impending dangers. And he will unveil a high-level government panel to serve as a clearinghouse for real-time intelligence, policymaking and other issues related to mass killing.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has resisted international pressure to step down and has continued to violently put down opposition to his regime, killing over 11,000 people according to the Washington Post.  GPS tracking and other new technologies have likely played a role in many of these deaths.

According to the Washington Post:

In his new executive order, which was summarized in advance for The Washington Post, Obama states that “the same GPS, satellite communications, mobile phone, and Internet technology employed by democracy activists across the Middle East and North Africa is being used against them by the regimes in Syria and Iran.”

Under the order, the administration will announce Monday new sanctions, including a U.S. visa ban and financial restrictions, on two Syrian “entities,” one Syrian individual and four Iranian “entities.” Administration officials, who did not identify the targets of the sanctions by name, said “entities” in this case describes both government agencies and private companies in Iran and Syria.



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