President Obama announced a set of new sanctions that target "Syria and Iran and the 'digital guns for hire' who help them oppress their people with surveillance software and monitoring technology," the AFP reports.
The president made the announcement during a visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. His visit was the first as president.
"These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them," Obama said. "It's one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come, the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people, and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny."
The United States and its allies have already stacked a variety of sanctions against Iran and Syria. These new sanctions, explains The New York Times, put technology providers "on notice," and authorize financial restrictions on "those who provide technology to Tehran and Damascus." The new sanctions, issued through an executive order, also block the owners of those companies from entering the United States.
The Washington Post, which first reported the story, says that the order shows the role technology has played not only to fuel the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, but to help regimes quell the rebellions.
The Post adds:
"Obama's speech at the most visible U.S. symbol of Holocaust remembrance comes at a time when his policy toward Syria, where a government crackdown has killed thousands of civilians, is under sharp criticism from his Republican rivals for the presidency.
"To demonstrate the priority he places on genocide prevention, Obama used the roughly 20-minute 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."