New Bill Aimed at Tik Tok Might Ensnare Businesses & Employees Using VPNs

A new bill from Washington would give the federal government broad authority to police apps and technologies that it believes foreign adversaries are using to communicate or collect information on Americans. 

Sponsored by Senator Mark Warner, the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act, would give the Secretary of Commerce the authority to review and prohibit certain transactions, communications and information sharing between persons in the United States and foreign adversaries, if the Secretary determines that such transactions pose a threat to national security.

The RESTRICT Act proposes that the Secretary of State be given the authority to review business transactions involving technologies and services when they are linked to a “foreign adversary” of the United States. It applies to entities that offer “information and communications technologies products or services” (ICTS) that have over 1 million active users or units sold in the United States and are held in whole or in part by a designated foreign adversary, or otherwise fall under their jurisdiction.

The initial list of foreign adversaries includes China, as well as Hong Kong and Macau, Cuba, Iran, Russia, and the Nicolás Maduro regime of Venezuela. The bill directs the Secretary of Commerce to identify and mitigate national security risks associated with technology linked to these countries.

One of the primary concerns about the RESTRICT Act is the potential impact on virtual private network services (VPN). VPNs are commonly used daily by businesses and employees, especially remote workers, to add an extra layer of security to Internet and email communications.

Under the RESTRICT Act, VPNs could be classified as “information and communications technology products and services holdings that pose undue or unacceptable risks” and therefore subject to scrutiny.

The bill also includes ambiguous phrases such as desktop programs, mobile apps, gaming platforms, payment solutions and web applications. 

The RESTRICT Act would grant the federal government sweeping powers to crack down on any technologies and services it sees as a threat. Violators may face severe penalties, including fines up to $1 million, or 20 years in jail, or both.

While the intent of the RESTRICT Act is to protect national security, it remains to be seen whether the bill will ultimately achieve its goals without infringing on individual rights and freedoms, as well as the ability of employers and employees to conduct business in a routine, safe and protected manner.

Potomac Legal Group is following the developments and will continue to advise clients about any new legal implications related to business technology, intellectual property, and employee rights. 

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