Obama says tech sanctions target Syria, Iran but US record on privacy criticized
- Year: 2012
- Length: 4:04 minutes (1.86 MB)
- Format: MP3 Mono 22kHz 64Kbps (CBR)
Today, the Obama Administration announced a new set of sanctions to target Iran and Syria and digital companies that help to monitor and suppress activists or dissidents within the countries. But civil liberties advocates say US efforts to gather private information personal data through data mining and wiretapping, as well as current bills in Congress, diminish the country’s credibility on the issue. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein has the details, in Washington DC.
TRANSCRIPT: Speaking to Holocaust survivors, diplomats and human rights advocates on Monday, the President described new federal efforts he says could prevent a 21st century holocaust.
OBAMA: I’ve signed an executive order that authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian government and Iran and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence.
Monday morning’s event, held at DC’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, focused on past, current and future human rights atrocities. But Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel drew attention to two nations in particular—Syria and Iran—and questioned the lack of international will to confront their leaders.
WIESEL: How is it that Assad is still in power? How is it that the Holocaust number one denier, Ahmadinejad, is still a president? We must know that when evil has power, it is almost too late. There are preventative measures. We must to use those measures to prevent another catastrophe.
Technology has been a double-edged sword in the region, with online and mobile tools in the hands of both repressive governments and struggling dissidents. Meg Roggensack with Human Rights First says the priority of the US and international community must be preserve citizens’ privacy and free access to technology.
ROGGENSACK: Iran and Syria both contracted to obtain surveillance technologies that would enable them to track their citizens, obtain communications, and then use that communication to torture them, get additional information they can use to identify other potential dissidents.
The US company Blue Coat admitted last year that the Syrian government used its products to block Internet access in the country, but denied selling the technology to them. The State Department is currently investigating the situation.The President’s announcement comes as the House of Representatives is considering a bill that would allow companies to share private data with each other and the government. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, has bipartisan support. But privacy advocates are mobilizing to defeat it, saying the vague language in the cybersecurity bill would override existing privacy laws, and give companies broad immunity—even if they share personal data for non-cybersecurity reasons.
WILSON: It gives any company the right to share effectively any type of information with any government agencies, who can then use it for anything they want.
That’s Holmes Wilson with open Internet group Fight for the Future. He says US criticism of citizen surveillance in Iran and Syria is hypocritical, considering bills like CISPA, the illegal wiretapping program, and other recent government crackdowns on activists and whistle-blowers.
WILSON: If the State Department wants to encourage and promote Internet freedom around the world, the Obama Administration needs to take a strong stand for it at home. And frankly, they haven’t been.
As President Obama calls out Syria’s Assad for surveillance of dissidents, Department of Homeland Security documents released last month revealed widespread and coordinated monitoring of the US Occupy movement. And the Justice Department recently approved new rules allowing the government to store citizens’ private data for up to five years, even if there’s no evidence of criminal activity. The House of Representatives will vote on the cybersecurity bill CISPA by the end of the week.
Alice Ollstein, FSRN, Washington