Under the last 3 administrations, discussions about the safety of allowing Chinese-designed technology to be part of our daily lives have been fairly constant. Each administration has looked at and worked to prevent the use of different technologies within the government, but the trend has been the same - public and national security concerns. However, the latest attempt to deal with the potential harm of Chinese technology, known as the RESTRICT Act, has other issues that should stop it in its tracks.
The history of Anti Chinese tech legislation
Since the opening of China under the Nixon administration, the relationship between the Chinese government and the West has been strained. The Chinese government has increasingly focused on a closed society and economy, while the West has been defined by its open society and economy.
Under the Obama administration, phones from Huawei and ZTE were banned from use by the government. Since then, a focus has been placed on Samsung and Apple devices for most official devices. Under the Trump administration, Huawei and ZTE network hardware were banned. Then, the discussions around TikTok began, with a forced sale required, followed by a lapsed timeline and eventual abandonment.
Under the Biden administration, the forced sale was canceled, leaving the future of TikTok in open. But, as quickly as it was canceled, conversations have come back. Another ban has been on the horizon, but the actual implementation is very different from last time.
What is the RESTRICT Act supposed to do?
The RESTRICT Act is a proposed bill that would ban any foreign-sourced technology from being used by the federal government. This means that all new information systems, software, hardware, etc., must come from companies based in the United States or its allies. The bill is intended to reduce the risk of espionage, economic theft, or disruption of our critical infrastructure by hostile states.
The bill came about because of the fears around TikTok and its ties to the Chinese government. However, the bill does not specifically target TikTok, and applies harsh penalties on users who try to avoid the bans.
The problems with the RESTRICT Act
The RESTRICT Actl has a number of flaws that make it likely to fail in Congress. First, the bill does not actually ban TikTok, despite what the pitch for the bill has been. Instead, it simply gives the bureaucracy new powers to regulate what people can and cannot use on their devices - all under the guise of national security.
Second, the bill would create an additional layer of bureaucracy and red tape for US businesses. Companies would have to prove their domestic origin every time they bid on a government project, along with providing detailed paperwork regarding their source code and hardware components. This could potentially slow down the process and cost companies both time and money.
Moreover, the bill does not actually address how to protect user data from foreign powers or malicious actors. While it does require apps to be transparent about their source code, this falls short of requiring app makers to protect users' privacy and security - something that is needed in order to safeguard national security.
Imsteastingly, the bill also lays out prison time for those who try and circumvent the bans. In fact, using a VPN to access a banned platform could land the user in prison for up to 20 years. The problem ,of course, is that it could be easy to do accidentally. Image using our friends at PureVPN to access British shows on BBC and All4. While there, you click on an article about some social event, and it includes an embed of a TikTok video. Under these conditions, and the wording of the law, you could face jail time, despite a lack of intention to bypass the ban.
Overall, the proposed bill has some valid elements, but will likely have unintended consequences for US businesses and does not go far enough in terms of protecting user data from foreign powers. This is why it is essential to further discuss what should be included in order to create a comprehensive policy that protects both businesses and national security.