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VPN Users Risk 20-Year Jail Sentences in the US Under New RESTRICT Act

Published: March 30, 2023 | Print Friendly and PDF

A bill dubbed the ‘RESTRICT’ act that was submitted to Congress could have severe consequences for virtual private network (VPN) users in the United States.

U.S. lawmakers are widening their sights when it comes to cracking down on finance and technology.

The bipartisan “Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT)” act was unveiled in early March.

It was initially dubbed the “TikTok Ban Bill,” but it has far wider ramifications. Furthermore, VPN users could face hefty fines or jail sentences under the bill.

Communications and VPN Tech Targeted

People often legitimately use VPN (virtual private network) services to add an extra layer of security for web communications. Furthermore, they allow users to mask or change their internet address. Accessing content that may otherwise be blocked or censored is often required.

The bill, if passed, would attempt to identify “information and communications technology products and services holdings that pose undue or unacceptable risks.”

This could include VPNs if they are used to access banned websites such as TikTok. But that is not all.

The proposed legislation contains ambiguous phrases like “desktop programs,” “mobile apps,” “gaming platforms,” “payment solutions,” and “web applications.” It targets relevant software with a user base exceeding 1 million in the U.S.

Essentially, it intends to scrutinize a long list of communications technologies. These include web hosting, cloud services, content delivery services, drones, artificial intelligence, and e-commerce.

The bill specifically directs the Secretary of Commerce to “identify, deter, disrupt, prevent, prohibit, investigate, or otherwise mitigate” national security risks associated with technology linked to countries adversarial to the U.S.

The scary part is the potential punishment for violators. This includes fines of up to a million dollars or 20 years in jail, or both.

Balaji Srinivasan, the former CTO of Coinbase, maintains that The RESTRICT Act is reminiscent of China’s Great Firewall. It creates a virtual barrier within the United States, which emulates China’s strict internet control policies with the stated goal of competing with and surpassing the Asian powerhouse.

Srinivasan argues that it could lead to the erosion of internet freedom in the name of national competition.

Moving Forward With TikTok Ban

According to reports on March 27, lawmakers are moving forward with the bill. This follows the grilling of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew last week. The Chinese social media platform has an estimated 150 million users in the United States.

House of Representatives speaker Kevin McCarthy said that the House would be moving forward with the bill because “TikTok can’t be honest.” He believes that China has access to TikTok user data. For this reason, McCarthy wants to “protect Americans from the technological tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Meanwhile, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to TikTok to address the need for nationwide data and privacy protection policies. She stated that the core of the issue is not TikTok but social media companies collecting “troves of deeply personal data” from users.

If passed, the new legislation will grant the U.S. government sweeping powers to crack down on any technologies and services it sees as a threat. Remarkably, that includes VPN technology.

Those opposing the bill say it will give the state the power to police the entire internet and any platforms on it. Furthermore, some referred to it as the “Chinafication of America.”

The legislation is frighteningly similar to that in China, which has some of the world’s harshest internet censorship.

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