The RESTRICT Act, also referred to as the “TikTok ban,” does much more than just outlaw the platform with ties to China. It aims to “restrict the emergence of security threats that put information and communications technology at risk.”
The bill, sponsored by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), would give the federal government the unilateral power to label any country a “foreign adversary,” ban any online services and products, including those that are only marginally under their indirect control, and punish Americans who engage in almost any kind of business with them.
The Act carries extremely harsh penalties for violations, which could be as easy as using a VPN service to reach a restricted website like TikTok.
The Secretary of Commerce may inflict a civil penalty of up to $250,000 on anyone who performs a transaction in violation of the law, which is the first weapon in the government’s toolbox.
The bills’ classification of what constitutes a transaction as “any acquisition, transfer, installation, transfer, dealing in, or using any information or communications technology products, including continuing activities like managed services, data transmission, software updates, repairs, or the provision of hosting services, or any class of such transactions,” as well as “any other transactions, the structure of which is designed” is an impossibly broad approach.
The $250,000 fee, however, is the least severe punishment. American residents who are found to be in breach of the Act risk a criminal punishment of up to $1 million and a 20-year prison term.
Then there is asset seizure, which gives the government access to a long inventory of American residents’ devices and services.
In addition to hardware like phones and computers, these also include internet access points like cable and wireless, “e-commerce services and technology, including any electronic techniques for accomplishing commercial transactions” (a definition inclusive of all cryptocurrencies), as well as “post-quantum cryptography, quantum computing,” “advanced robotics,” and “biotechnology.”
In addition, the measure shields the government from judicial review and limits Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiries regarding its implementation.
The RESTRICT Act basically replicates the “Great Firewall” of China, which prevents its people from accessing a significant portion of the internet.
However, even in China, where many apps are prohibited, using a VPN does not always result in detention. In fact, many Chinese residents use VPNs to access well-known apps and video games, and they generally get away with it.