US Department of State Commences Visa Restriction Policy on Persons who Misuse Commercial Spyware

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Antony Blinken,
United States Secretary of State

The United States State Department, the federal executive department responsible for the conduct of foreign relations of the US, has commenced the implementation of a new visa restriction policy on individuals to promote accountability for the misuse of commercial spyware’

The policy is part of the United States’ comprehensive approach to combat the misuse of commercial spyware. Previous actions in this direction include issuing an Executive Order that prohibits the US government from using commercial spyware that threatens the country’s national security or foreign policy interests. Additionally, the Department of Commerce has listed entities that produce commercial spyware that enables the abuse of sophisticated surveillance tools.

Furthermore, the US is actively engaged in diplomatic efforts to boost international cooperation in this regard, including the Joint Statement on Efforts to Counter the Proliferation and Misuse of Commercial Spyware, adopted at the Summit for Democracy, which is led by the US. Policy to Promote Accountability for the Misuse of Commercial Spyware.

The United States expressed deep concern about the increasing misuse of commercial spyware worldwide which often leads to repression, restrictions on the free flow of information, and human rights abuses. It noted that the use of commercial spyware threatens the privacy and freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, adding that in some cases, such targeting has led to arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. It added that the misuse of these tools poses a security and counterintelligence threat to U.S. personnel.

The United States reiterated its support for human rights and fundamental freedoms, pledging that it will continue to promote accountability for individuals involved in commercial spyware misuse.

The visa restriction policy was issued pursuant to Section 212 (a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and National Act, and allows the Department of State to implement visa restrictions for individuals believed to have been involved in the misuse of commercial spyware to target, arbitrarily or unlawfully surveil, harass, suppress, or intimidate individuals including journalists, activists, other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, members of marginalized communities or vulnerable populations, or the family members of these targeted individuals.

The restriction also affects individuals believed to facilitate or derive financial benefit from the misuse of commercial spyware described above, including but not limited to developing, directing, or operationally controlling companies that furnish technologies such as commercial spyware to governments, or those acting on behalf of governments, that engage in activities as described above. The immediate family members of individuals subject to the restrictions above are also affected by the visa restriction policy.  For purposes of this policy, “immediate family members” include spouses and children of any age.