United States President Barack Obama announced plans on Monday to impose sanctions on foreign governments that use modern technology to tackle anti-government protesters.
Speaking from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the nation’s capital early Monday, President Obama said America would soon be taking measures against foreign governments that rely on the latest advancements of the digital age to fight dissidents. The president made his remarks in response to authoritarian regimes in locales such as Syria and Iran, where those countries’ governments have been accused of implementing modern tools involving the Internet and mobile phone technology to keep track of protesters and block them from advancing their anti-national messages to others through social media.
“These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them,” the president told the press while announcing his initiative. “It’s one more step toward the day that we know will come, the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people.”
Some critics have come after the Obama administration for being hesitant to act against Bashar al-Assad and other foreign rulers alleged to be engaged in human rights violations against their own people. While the president addressed that the latest sanctions are only a small step in penalizing those regimes, they are a step nonetheless in the right direction, many feel. By forcing foreign governments to abort operations made possible through modern technology that would otherwise prevent protest movements, Obama essentially is strengthening a chokehold against regimes relying on the latest advancements to thwart demonstrations.
In other words, however, it’s a classic case of “Do as I say; not as I do.”
While the president’s announcement is indeed positive news for pro-democracy demonstrators across the globe that are threatened by governmental intervention, Obama is at the same time encouraging other countries to abort the same practices that the United States has been documented doing themselves as of late.
The White House has previously linked the Syrian government with working out a deal with telecom company Syriatel, the details of which would force the privately owned cell phone service provider to nix network coverage in areas where the government planned anti-rebel attacks. Syriatel is also believed to have recorded mobile phone conversations on behalf of the Assad government, claims the White House.
Here in the US, however, similar practices have already been put in place as officials have been proved to cut off service in hotbeds of political unrest.
Last year the city of San Francisco, California awarded itself the power to pull the plug on cell phone service on the city’s public transportation grid after a series of protests were waged against metro system’s law enforcement unit. California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) began throttling cell phone service last year after riders organized protests following the death of Oscar Grant — an unarmed metro rider that was shot and killed by a transit officer three years earlier. The assassin, former-Officer Johannes Mehserle, served just a few months for the execution.
At the time, BART Board President Bob Franklin explained, “The intent of this cell phone interruption policy is to balance free speech rights with legitimate public safety concerns.” With the right to speak freely protected under the First Amendment, however, critics were quick to condemn BART for putting restrictions on the US Constitution.
Now in locales such as Syria and Iran, the US is threatening action against countries that are doing the same. And although the bloodshed brought on by the revolt in Syria is unmatched in the US, shutting down cell phones aren’t the only similarity between US practices and those occurring overseas in which President Obama has spoken out against.
The White House is upset over how foreign nations have snooped on protesters and removed Internet access to those they consider a threat to their state, while the US is at the same time considering legislation that would allow it those same privileges. The United States Congress will hear arguments over its latest computer security legislation this week, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which has been constructed under the guise as being a necessary implement against Internet terrorism. If passed, however, it allows the government to do much more than snoop on cyber criminals. If CISPA is approved, both private companies and the federal government will be able to eavesdrop on online communication if they believe there is reason to believe illegal activity is being engaged in over the Web.
Also expected for Americans in the coming months is an initiative agreed on by the leading Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country. Customers of Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Cablevision Systems and other ISPs will soon have their Internet connection throttled (and perhaps terminated) if the provider believes the client to be illegally sharing copyrighted material. Despite a ruling earlier this year by a District Court judge in Northern California that concluded it was too tough to prove the legitimacy of the claims of copyright holders against those who infringe upon their protected material, people suspected to be holding onto illegally-acquired material will have their Internet privileges decimated as early as this July.
Ruling in favor of a a John Doe defendant accused of sharing illegally-obtained material, Judge Howard Lloyd said earlier this month, “it would appear that the technology that enables copyright infringement has outpaced technology that prevents it.”
Copyright issues aside, however, the US government has in other cases decided to censor the Web and access to it for Americans who are considered to be problematic to thefederal government. Leaders in other locales internationally have decided similarly, of course, but if President Obama has his way, they will soon be sanctioned for doing the same.
- US to sanction authoritarian regimes that block internet access for protesters (guardian.co.uk)
- US unveils Syria and Iran technology sanctions (mytechnologyworld9.blogspot.com)
- Obama to sanction tech companies that violate rights (vator.tv)