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Obama eyes sanctions on foreign nationals using tech to limit rights

The president is expected to make the announcement in a speech today at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, according to The Washington Post.

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama Martin LaMonica/CNET

President Barack Obama will allow U.S. officials to sanction foreign nationals for using technology to engage in human rights abuses, according to a new report.

The president will speak today at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum about human rights abuses. Part of his plan to address those abuses worldwide will include taking aim at those who use mobile phone tracking and Internet monitoring to limit free speech, The Washington Post reported yesterday, citing senior administration officials.

The sanctions will only be imposed on individuals and foreign companies that assist governments in violating human rights through technology, according to the report. However, the administration is reportedly eyeing future executive orders that might expand the scope of those sanctions.

Technology has played an integral role in cracking down on free speech in countries around the world. China, for instance, has at times blocked several Web sites, including Facebook and Foursquare, to prevent citizens from expressing displeasure with the government. India recently took aim at both Facebook and Google for engaging in a general lack of censorship that "will corrupt minds."

The President's order underscores the changing threats to free speech and other basic human rights. While some governments continue to lean on violence as a tool of intimidation, technology is becoming more widely used to aid those efforts in maintaining control over a citizenry.

According to the Post, the sanctions will allow U.S. officials to ban U.S. visas and impose financial restrictions. The president also plans today to announce sanctions on two Syrian and four Iranian "entities," according to the Post.

"The same GPS, satellite communications, mobile phone, and Internet technology employed by democracy activists across the Middle East and North Africa is being used against them by the regimes in Syria and Iran," President Obama will say today during his speech, according to the Post.