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Obama: Network Disruption in Syria, Iran, Facilitates Human Rights Abuse

BY Nick Judd | Monday, April 23 2012

In an executive order signed Sunday and released by the White House on Monday as President Barack Obama spoke at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C., the president called for sanctions against entities involved in the disruption, monitoring, or tracking of computers and networks by the Syrian or Iranian governments.

The order would block property in the U.S. owned by people involved firsthand in network tracking and disruption, as well as people who provided technology, finances or expertise. It calls out Syrian and Iranian Internet service providers by name, but may be inclusive enough to cause problems for the Swedish telecommunications supplier Ericsson, which has supplied Syrian telecommunications firm Syriatel, said the Electronic Freedom Foundation's Jillian C. York.

However, the order's focus on Iran and Syria may limit its effectiveness, York said.

"That's the biggest concern I have, it being so targeted to those two countries," York said by phone Monday. "It's not sending a serious message to companies that would consider getting involved in other countries that would consider doing these things illegally, and that includes a lot of the region."

York specifically cited Bahrain, where the government just this weekend kept protesters away from the Formula One Grand Prix held there. While reports say the race was not disrupted, onlookers could see smoke from tires set alight in nearby villages. Clashes continue there between protesters and police as Bahraini activists seek to continue their Arab Spring.

As order comes months after monitoring and disruption of Internet activity began in Syria and Iran, it may also be too little too late, York said.

The executive order was one in a series of moves Obama announced Monday in response to human rights abuses. In remarks at the Holocaust Memorial, Obama also said that the U.S. military would take prevention of atrocities into its doctrine and planning, and would back development of technologies to quickly expose violations of human rights.

From the preamble to the order:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.), section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as amended (8 U.S.C. 1182(f)), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code,
I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, hereby determine 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 their governments’ malign use of technology for those purposes, threaten the national security and foreign policy of the
United States. The Governments of Iran and Syria are endeavoring to rapidly upgrade their technological ability to conduct such activities. Cognizant of 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 this 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.