Obama announces U.S. sanctions against telecoms in Iran, Syria

Companies that sell online surveillance- or Internet-monitoring technologies to the governments of Iran or Syria could immediately face U.S. sanctions, under an executive order President Barack Obama signed this week.   

The measure, which bars direct and indirect sales of technology and hardware, is aimed at thwarting the Iranian and Syrian regimes' efforts to track government dissidents through cellular phones and computers.

During a speech Monday at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Obama announced his order, intended to isolate further the governments of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"I've signed an executive order that authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian government and Iran and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence," Obama said. "These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them."

With Obama's signature Monday, sanctions were imposed on the Iranian Internet service provider Datak Telecom and the Syrian communication firm Syriatel, the U.S. Treasury Department announced.

Subject to sanctions under the president's order are companies that create systems that track or monitor people for killing, torture or other abuses. The executive order allows assets in U.S. jurisdiction to be taken from interests aiding either the Syrian or Iranian governments in harming or tracking dissidents.

The order, additionally, suspends right of entry into the United States for people accused of helping Syrian and Iranian security agencies target demonstrators and other political dissidents.

On Capitol Hill, legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate that similarly takes aim at those who help repressive regimes perpetrate human-rights abuses.

Among the congressional efforts, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Ranking Member Richard Shelby, R-Ala., introduced S. 2101, the proposed Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012.

For more:
- see the executive order