The order, signed Sunday, and other actions taken demonstrate the United States recognizes "we need to be doing everything we can to prevent and respond to these kinds of atrocities -- because national sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your people," Obama said in remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The executive order authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian and Iranian governments "and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence," Obama said.
The executive order authorizes sanctions and visa bans against those who "commit or facilitate grave human rights abuses via information technology related to Syrian and Iranian regime brutality," the White House said in a fact sheet.
The order allows the United States to sanction not only the governments of Iran and Syria, but also companies that provide them with technology that can be used for oppression and the "digital guns for hire" who create or operate systems used to monitor, track and target citizens for killing, torture or other abuses, the White House said.
"These technologies … should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them," Obama said Monday. "And it's one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come -- the end of [President Bashar Assad's] regime that has brutalized the Syrian people -- and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny."
He also outlined other measures his administration is undertaking to prevent atrocities, including the creation of a panel of senior government officials to work with the memorial museum.
"The intelligence community will prepare, for example, the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on the risk of mass atrocities and genocide," Obama said, institutionalizing focus on the issue throughout the government. "Across government, 'alert channels' will ensure that information about unfolding crises -- and dissenting opinions -- quickly reach decision-makers, including me."
Besides work within the U.S. government, Obama said America would work with other nations "so the burden is better shared -- because this is a global responsibility."
Among the entities listed in the executive order are the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate and its director, Ali Mamluk, Syriatel, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard, Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Iran's law enforcement forces and the Iranian telecommunications firm Datak Telecom.
Senior administration officials said the order is designed to target companies and individuals assisting the governments of Iran and Syria, and that future executive orders could name individuals and businesses that aid other countries through technology in crackdowns on dissent.