President Obama will issue an executive order today that will allow the US to establish sanctions on foreign individuals, companies, and government agencies that use technologies like phone tracking and internet monitoring to help carry out human rights abuses, The Washington Post reports. The executive order is specifically targeted at Syria and Iran, including six unnamed "entities" (corporations or agencies) and one individual that have allegedly assisted their governments with abuses. According to The Washington Post, Obama states in the order 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."
Obama's language in today's executive order echoes statements his administration made back in March on Iran's internet policy. On March 20th, the US targeted Iran with accusations of "controlling the internet, creating a culture of fear, and persecuting foreign broadcasters," and initiated efforts to subvert the alleged censorship efforts of the Iranian government with the licensing of software like Skype, Dropbox, and Google Chrome. While today's executive order could be driven by a broader strategy to confront Iran over its nuclear ambitions — which Obama intimated last month — it highlights the government's increasing sensitivity to privacy-related technology issues.