State Department announces visa ban for people connected to commercial spyware

Secretary of State Antony Blinken


The State Department has announced a new policy that will allow the imposition of visa restrictions on individuals involved in the misuse of commercial spyware. The misuse of commercial spyware has been linked to arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the most egregious of cases. Additionally, the misuse of these tools presents a security and counter-intelligence threat to US personnel, the State Department said in a statement.

The new policy covers investors and heads of companies, as well as those acting on behalf of governments that carry out illegal surveillance. The policy will be applied using the information in an individual’s visa application.

“This new policy is the most recent action in the US’ comprehensive approach to countering the misuse of commercial spyware. Previous actions have included the issuance of an Executive Order prohibiting the US government’s use of commercial spyware that poses risks to US’ national security or foreign policy interests,” said the US State Department.

The misuse of commercial spyware threatens privacy and freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, said the government.

In March last year, the Joe Biden government via an executive order said that “it shall not make operational use of commercial spyware that poses significant counterintelligence or security risks to the US government or significant risks of improper use by a foreign government or foreign person”.

The statement said:
This visa restriction policy is pursuant to Section 212 (a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and National Act, and allows the Department of State to implement visa restrictions for (1) 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; (2) individuals believed to facilitate or derive financial benefit from the misuse of commercial spyware described in prong (1) 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 in prong (1) above; and (3) the immediate family members of individuals subject to the restrictions in prongs (1) and (2) above. For purposes of this policy, “immediate family members” include spouses and children of any age.

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