Congress is considering new legislation that would require warning labels on smartphone applications made in countries the United States deems a national security threat, including China, Russia, and Iran.
The legislation spearheaded by Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, would require app store operators to inform Americans before they download an application that could surreptitiously collect their data and send it to an enemy state.
“This bill will help inform us as to what exactly we’re agreeing to when we hit the download button on some apps on the app store,” Banks told the Washington Free Beacon. “If an app is being used by a foreign government to take advantage of us, we need to be informed.”
Data harvesting threatens anyone who uses a smartphone. Applications routinely siphon off data and send it to servers hosted in foreign countries. Any app produced by a hostile regime could pose a significant risk to American users.
Banks’s bill calls out “China, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Sudan, Iran, and North Korea, and any other country that is designated as a source of dangerous software by an expert or has provided support for international terrorism,” according to information provided by the lawmaker’s office.
Any American who downloads an application produced in one of these countries would be presented with a warning message. The user would then have to acknowledge the possibility his or her data may be abused before downloading the app in question.
This warning label would be separate from any other agreements the user must navigate prior to downloading the application, according to the bill. The Federal Trade Commission would be in charge of enforcing the new requirements.
As more Americans turn to their phones for entertainment, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, it has become increasingly simple for hostile foreign nations to exploit the access given when a person downloads an application. Many of the simplest apps can surreptitiously record data from users and track their movements and purchasing history.
Reams of information about American users of the popular TikTok video app are hosted on servers in China, where the communist government can access it. The U.S. Army blocked soldiers from using TikTok in January due to the national security threat the app poses.
Banks’s bill would impose fines of up to $50,000 on app developers and software marketplace operators that do not enforce the new warning labels. Criminal punishments, including prison, could also be handed down for anyone who egregiously violates the statute.
Other countries can be added to the at-risk list as Congress sees fit.
“Some phone apps are fun and useful, others are counterintelligence threats. Americans should know which is which before they hit the download button,” Banks said in a statement announcing the new legislation. “Parents and consumers have a right to a warning that by downloading some apps like Russia’s FaceApp or China’s TikTok, their data may be used against the United States by an adversarial or enemy regime.”