Today, President Obama announced new sanctions for technology used in human rights abuses in Iran and Syria. What he didn't mention is that a lot of that technology comes from U.S. companies.
In a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the president debuted a new executive order that targets individuals and companies that provide authoritarian governments with "new technology that assists in civilan repression." The president said these technologies should be used to "empower citizens, not oppress them." It's unclear how aggressively U.S. companies will be targeted under this order but, according to a White House fact sheet on the decision, it could include quite a few, given that it targets any person who has "sold, leased, or otherwise provided, directly or indirectly, goods, services, or technology to Iran or Syria likely to be used to facilitate computer or network disruption, monitoring or tracking that could assist in or enable serious human rights abuses by or on behalf of the Government of Iran or the Government of Syria." Here's who we think could conceivably fit into that criteria:
Hewlett-Packard. In November, Bloomberg reported that more than $500,000 in Hewlett-Packard equipment was installed in computer rooms in Syria to "underpin" a surveillance system for monitoring e-mails and Internet use. "The gear made by Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett- Packard would run a Damascus monitoring center for Syrian agents to track citizens’ communications, and route data, according to blueprints and the person familiar with the system," reported Vernon Silver.
Blue Coat System In October, The Wall Street Journal got the U.S. firm Blue Coat Systems to acknowledge that its equipment was used to block the Web in Syria. It told the newspaper Syria used at least 13 of its Internet-blocking devices to censor web activity. "Blue Coat Systems Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., says it shipped the Internet 'filtering' devices to Dubai late last year, believing they were destined for a department of the Iraqi government," reported Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Paul Sonne and Nour Malas. "However, the devices—which can block websites or record when people visit them—made their way to Syria, a country subject to strict U.S. trade embargoes."
NetApp In November, Bloomberg reported that a surveillance system in Syria includes storage equipment from the Sunnyvale, California-based company NetApp. The NetApp gear was purchased as a "part of a contract with Syria’s state-owned fixed-line telephone company, according to the documents and the person familiar with the transactions." Lawmakers have since called for a probe into the matter.
Now that just covers the U.S. tech firms whose equipment has aided Iran and Syria. If you want to expand that to Western firms, the list includes, the Dublin-based Cellusys, which helps Syria's mobile phone operator block communications, Area SpA, an Italian surveillance company helping Syrian intelligence agents, and Creativity Software, a British tech firm that has exported software to Iran. You could also add more U.S. firms if you include the ones helping censor the Web in other Mid East countries like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait, which would bring in US companies like McAfee. The question remains, however, if H-P, Blue Coat or NetApp will be targeted with sanctions.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.