A bill working its way through the US House of Representatives will have massive repercussions for Americans should it pass.

The RESTRICT act, more commonly known as “TikTok Ban Bill,” will usher in a swathe of fresh restrictions on internet users. Under the legislation, using a VPN to bypass US bans on apps would become a criminal act punishable by a maximum 20-year prison term and/or a fine of up to $1 million.

Besides attacking the rights of ordinary US citizens, the bill also opens another front in the ongoing US-China trade war that began in 2018 under the Presidency of Donald Trump. 

Penalties criminal

Source: Congress.gov

It is about more than TikTok

The US trade war against China is heating up as Joe Biden’s administration ramps up the policy agenda of his predecessor. This time, the rights of ordinary US citizens could be part of the collateral damage.

Last October, US officials banned exports of advanced microchip technology to Beijing. In February, US pressure prompted other nations in the western sphere of influence, including the Netherlands and Japan, to follow suit.

Next on the agenda, the US will seek to ban TikTok and other social media linked to China and other foreign states the country deems adversarial.

On Sunday, TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew spent five hours answering questions from members of the US Senate. 

“Let me state this unequivocally,” said Chew. “ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country.”

US lawmakers were not impressed by Chew’s testimony. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, chair of the Senate’s intelligence committee, was among those who criticized Chew.

“While I appreciated Mr Chew’s testimony, he just couldn’t answer the basic questions,” Warner said. 

Warner expressed his belief that “the White House is very in favor of this bill.” 

With cross-party support and White House approval, the bill currently looks well-placed to eventually be ratified.

The dwindling rights of US citizens

In the rush to quash competition from adversarial states, the rights of ordinary Americans now appear under threat.

If passed, the bill seeks to “identify, deter, disrupt, prevent, prohibit, investigate, or otherwise mitigate” any technology that poses risks to the US. That would include “any hardware, software, or other product or service primarily intended to fulfill or enable the function of information or data processing, storage, retrieval, or communication by electronic means, including transmission, storage, and display.”

Under the bill, commonly used software such as VPNs would fall within its remit. Those attempting to communicate with banned applications via VPN would be subject to the highly punitive law.

Nation-states specifically named by the bill include the People’s Republic of China, including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Macao Special Administrative Region; the Republic of Cuba; the Islamic Republic of Iran; the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; the Russian Federation; and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The balkanization of the internet

Under the terms of the bill, the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Commerce would have the authority to designate new foreign adversaries without notifying congress. 

As Ryan Sean Adams said on Twitter this Tuesday, “This is the final nail in the coffin toward the full balkanization of the internet. Our free and open global communication network is now divided into zones of power.”

Most worryingly, it is believed that US citizens could also be designated as foreign adversaries. This would open them to the full sweeping powers of the act, granting US authorities access to all of their personal information including on mobile networks, social media, and more.

This article is originally from MetaNews.

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