TikTok ban could threaten cryptocurrencies and other technologies

The broad language of the RESTRICT Act can potentially threaten many useful technologies including VPNs and cryptocurrencies.

large pile of Bitcoin coins in the middle of a prison cell
Many Internet users fear that the ban will significantly restrict their online freedom.

Introduced on March 7 by Senators Warner and Thune, the RESTRICT bill or "Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act," also known as the TikTok ban, has raised serious concerns among information technology and digital rights experts.

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The ban is presumably intended to protect the USA from foreign adversaries listed under Title 15 of the Code of Federal Regulations who may be collecting data from American citizens through various technological channels. The bill was introduced primarily because lawmakers suspect that Chinese-owned TikToc, the most downloaded mobile application of all time, may be collecting data from its 150 million American users for the Chinese government.

While the bill initially appeared to be a threat only to TikTok fans, it soon became apparent that it could pose a serious threat to many other technologies.

Rachel Cohen, communications director for Senator Warner, explained the significance of the bill to Motherboard, an online technology magazine. "This legislation is aimed squarely at companies like Kaspersky, Huawei, and TikTok that create systemic risks to the United States' national security - not at individual users," she said, adding, "The threshold for a criminal penalty in this bill is incredibly high - too high to ever be concerned with the actions of someone an individual user of TikTok or a VPN."

The penalties provided in the RESTRICT Act range from a $250,000 fine to 20 years of imprisonment, while the list of targeted technologies includes various types of applications for mobile and desktop devices as well as browsers, including gaming and payment software.

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Motherboard also published some of the opinions of digital rights experts on the RESTRICT Act. For example, Willmary Escoto, US policy analyst for the organization Access Now, believes that the RESTRICT Act is "a concerning distraction with insanely broad language that raises serious human and civil rights concerns." He added that "many individuals and organizations, including journalists, activists, and human rights defenders, use VPNs to protect their online activity from surveillance and censorship. The RESTRICT Act would expose these groups to monitoring and repression, which could have a chilling effect on free speech and expression."

Meanwhile, Coin Center, a nonprofit blockchain technology research and advocacy center, is concerned that "an overbroad interpretation of those powers could be exploited in order to ban Americans from using entire classes of technologies, even when no foreign adversary has an actual proprietary interest in the technology as a whole."