April 26, 2012 - Updated on January 20, 2016

US sanctions on Iranian and Syrian entities and individuals for monitoring and tracking dissidents online

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the executive order that President Barack Obama signed on 23 April imposing new sanctions on those who provide the Syrian and Iranian regimes with “information and communications technology that facilitates computer or network disruption, monitoring, or tracking that could assist in or enable grave rights abuses.” The sanctions, which are to include financial penalties and bans on entering the United States, have been prompted by the use of mobile phone tracking and Internet surveillance in Syria and Iran to identify dissidents, human rights activists and citizen journalists. “These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them,” President Obama said, announcing the measures. Reporters Without Borders believes that human rights should be a priority in all negotiations between the US authorities and the Syrian and Iranian regimes. For the time being, only firms, organizations and individuals within Iran and Syria will be sanctioned. But, according to the Washington Post, the US government is also considering sanctions on entities in other countries that provide the two regimes with technology. The US administration has already issued an initial list of targets. They include Syria’s intelligence service and its director, Ali Mamluk, and Iran’s law enforcement organizations, Revolutionary Guard, and intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi. The Iranian Internet service provider Datak Telecom and the Syrian communications company Syriatel have also been sanctioned. Reporters Without Borders calls on the US authorities to continue to consult with human rights groups and civil society organization in the countries concerned in order to identify countries, entities or individuals that should be targeted. Western companies, including US and European ones, which are complicit in these activities, should not escape the sanctions. In Iran, why not also sanction the communication minister or members of the Supreme Council for Cyber-Space which the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, created in March? In Syria, the mobile operator MTN-Syria should also be targeted. Although this executive order is a step in the right direction, Reporters Without Borders points out that these two countries are not the only ones to use new technology to violate human rights. The sanctions should also apply to other countries that commit this kind of abuse such as Bahrain, a perfect example of a crackdown that succeed thanks to a news blackout made possible by a range of repressive measures, censorship and surveillance. Reporters Without Borders publishes a list of “Enemies of the Internet” each year. As well as Iran and Syria, they include Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The surveillance and censorship mechanism established by some of these regimes deserve similar sanctions. At the same time, the United States should continue efforts to provide badly needed censorship circumvention and anonymization tools to Internet users and human rights activists in the countries concerned. Reporters Without Borders urges other governments that care about human rights to take similar measures. Finally, Reporters Without Borders reiterates its opposition to the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA), with its risks of disproportionate online monitoring, and welcomes the White House’s recent threat of a presidential veto if it is adopted by the US congress.