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

4 mins
Updated by Ali Martinez
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In Brief

  • The 'TikTok Ban Bill' targets more than just social media.
  • The state would be able to police all communication platforms.
  • VPNs would be included with violators facing up to $1M in fines.
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A bill dubbed the ‘RESTRICT’ act submitted to Congress could have severe consequences for virtual private network (VPN) users in the United States. The newly-introduced legislation targets technology associated with a select group of “foreign adversaries” of the U.S. The bill identifies six countries in this category: China (encompassing Hong Kong and Macau), Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela.

U.S. lawmakers are widening their sights on 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 fines or jail sentences under the bill.

What Is the RESTRICT Act 2023?

U.S. Senator Mark Warner states that the RESTRICT Act, a proposed legislation, aims to safeguard the digital landscape. The goal is to ensure the technology people rely on daily remains secure and trustworthy.

This law intends to serve as a protective measure, monitoring companies and products that could pose risks to personal information, communication, and national security.

US Senator Mark Warner Restrict Act
U.S. Senator Mark Warner. Source: Getty Images

Essentially, the RESTRICT Act (S. 686) seeks to:

  • Establish protocols for identifying and addressing technology products. Especially those with potential ties to foreign adversaries, which might threaten national security.
  • Closely scrutinize tech products essential to daily life. These include those utilized in critical services like electricity, transportation, communication, and innovative technologies.
  • Facilitate collaboration among various government entities. To tackle risks arising from untrustworthy foreign technology.
  • Raise public and business awareness about potential threats. It aims to disseminate information on risky transactions that have been prevented or managed.

The RESTRICT Act’s primary goal is to enhance the safety and security of the digital world for all users. By implementing these measures, the Act aims to maintain an unbiased and secure environment for technology users.

Communications and VPN 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 686, 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 enable access to banned websites or platforms like TikTok.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a prominent organization championing digital rights, affirmed that “due to undefined mitigation measures coupled with a vague enforcement provision, the bill could also criminalize common practices like using a VPN or side-loading to install a prohibited app.” 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.

Punishment for Violators

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.

Meanwhile, Mario Nawfal, CEO of IBC Group, said that if this bill passes, it could mark a significant move away from democracy and toward authoritarianism. He maintains that people are not paying attention because they are looking into Donald Trump’s arrest, TikTok, and Andrew Tate.

Nawfal emphasizes that life as we know it is being eroded and insists that he is not exaggerating.

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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Martin Young
Martin Young is a seasoned cryptocurrency journalist and editor with over 7 years of experience covering the latest news and trends in the digital asset space. He is passionate about making complex blockchain, fintech, and macroeconomics concepts understandable for mainstream audiences.   Martin has been featured in top finance, technology, and crypto publications including BeInCrypto, CoinTelegraph, NewsBTC, FX Empire, and Asia Times. His articles provide an in-depth analysis of...