Iran protest

Anyone who helps the governments of Iran and Syria obtain technology to track dissenters through social media will soon find their U.S. assets frozen, thanks to sanctions announced today by the White House.

President Barack Obama signed a new executive order Sunday that freezes U.S. assets linked to people who have aided satellite, computer, and phone network monitoring in Syria or Iran, reports Reuters.

Social networks like Twitter and Facebook were a key factor in helping many groups overseas organize democratic protests against their governments, and helped facilitate efforts to overthrow repressive authorities, as demonstrated during the Arab Spring. However, it’s believed that the Iranian and Syrian governments are now using tools to mine data from the very same social network to search for dissenters, which “facilitate(s) serious human rights abuses,” said one administrative official.

The executive order identifies several organizations guilty of aiding Iran and Syria, including Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, Syrian cell phone company Syriatel, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces, and the Iranian ISP Datak Telecom. The Reuters report also indicates that the order identifies a number of individuals as well.

“The United States condemns the continuing campaigns of violence and human rights abuses against the people of Syria and Iran by their governments and provides a tool to hold accountable those who assist in or enable such abuses through the use of information and communications technology,” Obama states in the executive order.

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