What is the RESTRICT Act?
The American Senate is now looking into imposing a broad RESTRICT Act which is aimed at one thing and could end up ricocheting into the daily lives of ordinary users. What is considered as a measure to control the impact of foreign social networks c users. This act in a form of legislation may be used to control or ban apps like TikTok amidst spying and data collection scandals, but could lead to random bans of foreign apps and services in the US and even infringe the users’ right to Internet access. Let’s discuss it in this article.
The RESTRICT Act was proposed by Democrat Senator Mark Warner on March 7, 2023. The main idea of this legislation is that the Secretary of Commerce should be given the power to review whether IT products or services are operating in collusion with “foreign adversaries” of the United States and pose a serious threat to the national security of the US and its citizens. While it sounds good on paper, this legislation may have serious consequences on freedom of speech and business relations with many IT companies and services.
The problem with legislation
The legislation itself has good intentions to protect the American citizens from data harvesting and other cyber-threats and to minimize national security risks, however, the same legislation is extremely vague in its wording and could be potentially aimed at regular users who occasionally watch TikTok or use VPN to unblock some foreign websites or content.
What companies are considered to be potential threats?
The text identifies the following countries as potential threats: China, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba and Iran. In an interview with a spokesperson for Senator Warner, it was revealed that big companies operating out of these countries like Kaspersky, TikTok and Huawei create systemic risks for the United States’ national security. It is worth reminding that Huawei was involved in an espionage scandal resulting in a trade ban and the suspension from using Google Mobile Services, dropping Huawei out of the smartphone race on the international market. TikTok is no stranger to scandals as well, being banned in every major western country from the devices of the government officials, while the state of Montana is about to become the first state to ban the social media app for everyone and introduce fines.
What does it mean for the VPN services?
As of now, users of VPN can wipe the sweat off their faces and calm down a bit, as the RESTRICT Act will supposedly target the companies and organizations instead of ordinary users. Although the bill itself is supposed to handle apps and services that could potentially pose a threat to national security of the United States, some tech experts are worried that the implementation of the RESTRICT Act might be used against the users of VPNs and proxies and might impend on the basic right to Internet access, making a giant step into a totalitarian society with infringement on freedom of speech. Technically, the US Secretary will be able to punish for attempting to circumvent the restrictions and bans, meaning that a VPN or Proxy user can be fined up to 1 million USD or face up to 20 years in prison, which is insane. Even big tech bloggers like Linus Sebastian have expressed their concerns about the implementation of the RESTRICT Act and how short-sighted this measure can wind up being. The only upside is that the bill clarifies that anyone prosecuted under said act must be using (or misusing) some technology to harm the United States, according to Senator Mark Warner, the author of the RESTRICT Act.
What qualifies the app as a risk to national security?
Well, the list is quite comprehensive. It is considered a risk to national security ff an app or a piece of technology poses an undue or unacceptable risk of:
- sabotage or subversion of the design, integrity, manufacturing, production, distribution, installation, operation, or maintenance of information and communications technology products and services in the United States;
- catastrophic effects on the security or resilience of the critical infrastructure or digital economy of the United States;
- interfering in, or altering the result or reported result of a Federal election, as determined in coordination with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of Treasury, and the Federal Election Commission; or
- coercive or criminal activities by a foreign adversary that are designed to undermine democratic processes and institutions or steer policy and regulatory decisions in favor of the strategic objectives of a foreign adversary to the detriment of the national security of the United States, as determined in coordination with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of Treasury, and the Federal Election Commission; or
- otherwise poses an undue or unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the safety of United States persons.
Should users of VPN be worried right now?
The RESTRICT Act has not been passed into law yet. Considering the amount of backlash and criticism from journalists, organizations and regular users, there will be some changes made or further explanations, as the bill is a bit vague, to say the least, especially when it comes to describing VPN services. A spokesperson for Senator Warner said that “the punishments would not be used against ordinary citizens”. We’ll keep you updated as soon as there are some major shifts in the passing of this bill.
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