They say liberty dies with thunderous applause. But in the US, it looks like it might die to the tune of a choreographed TikTok video, as the nation’s leaders consider a bill that would not only ban the Chinese-owned app but also drastically diminish all Americans’ free speech rights.
We’ve been warning that banning the platform was a bad idea for some time at BASEDPolitics, but to be honest, now that we have the legislation, it’s so much worse than we thought. The RESTRICT Act is basically the Patriot Act 2.0, except this time directed at the internet and all US citizens.
Normal Americans: TikTok is bad because it allows the Chinese Government to collect data on our kids. That shouldn't be allowed.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress: The solution is to give us the power to unilaterally control the entire internet and spy on everything you do. https://t.co/6yaDcCSx54
— Andrew Surabian (@Surabees) March 28, 2023
If you’re not scared yet, check this: Rand Paul, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Tucker Carlson are all in agreement that this bill poses a significant threat to the civil liberties of our country’s citizens. When have those three ever agreed on anything before?
"If you don’t like TikTok or Facebook or YouTube, don’t use them. But don’t think any interpretation of the Constitution gives you the right to ban them," Sen. Paul said, breaking from his GOP colleagues on a measure that would prohibit use of the app. https://t.co/sMNM2wLIxp
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 29, 2023
The Chinafication of America Comes Disguised as a "Ban TikTok" Bill@TuckerCarlson: "So you would be allowing the executive branch, the Biden administration, to regulate speech on the internet. And if you are somehow involved with a 'foreign adversary,' or let's say you oppose… pic.twitter.com/dvq2fEVck1
— The Vigilant Fox 🦊 (@VigilantFox) March 28, 2023
Shout out to @AOC with a very sensible response to the Tik Tok hearings, which she posted on Tik Tok.
— Dr. Jorge J Rodríguez V (@JJRodV) March 26, 2023
Banning TikTok would violate our free speech rights. We’ve covered this in-depth here and here. But to summarize, Americans have a right to not only say what they want to without government interference, they also have a right to hear the speech of others.
By banning TikTok, Congress would be directly prohibiting the exchange of information by over 100 million Americans who use the app for a variety of reasons every day. That’s a First Amendment violation, but it’s also a violation of the Berman Amendment, which says the government can’t ban content just because it comes from certain countries. It isn’t hard to see why that’s a necessary law. If our government prevents us from consuming content from certain countries, we’re no different than North Korea, which blocks information from most of the outside world in order to control its citizens.
Lawmakers say we need to ban the app to protect our national security. They claim our data could be handed over to the Chinese government or that the country’s algorithm could be used to sway our population on important topics. But that’s highly hypocritical seeing that our own government is already very much in the business of doing that with US-owned social media companies.
Who poses a bigger threat to everyday Americans? The Chinese government? Or our own that regularly strips people of their rights and their freedoms every day?
Furthermore, one does not defeat their ideological opponents by acting like them. As Sen. Rand Paul has pointed out, China actually bans TikTok. How does behaving like our authoritarian opponents win the battle against them? It doesn’t. It would just turn an entire generation of Americans against their own country (And rightfully so. What good is a country that doesn’t defend basic principles of free speech and free markets?)
But it gets even worse. The RESTRICT Act is about so much more than TikTok it turns out—it’s a true trojan horse. This legislation actually appears to be one of the most sweeping power grabs over commerce, technology, and communications since the Patriot Act was passed in 2001. And we all know how THAT turned out.
The bill would require the executive branch to prohibit or otherwise mitigate any transaction or activity in information and communications online by companies that are controlled by a “foreign adversary.” What constitutes a foreign adversary? That’s left up to the Secretary of Commerce and the Director of National Intelligence to decide. So, umm, it could be literally anyone or anything they want it to be.
And how would the president then “prohibit or otherwise mitigate” these transactions? Prepare yourself, it’s terrifying. The bill grants numerous civil and criminal enforcement options that include forced divestment of assets, seizure of assets, and subpoenas for information. So any business caught in the crosshairs communicating with an entity that could overnight be determined a foreign adversary could face financial ruin. And those that stand wrongfully accused? They get a small window to bring direct constitutional challenges in the US Court of Appeals for DC (aka, you’re screwed).
Good thing our government never uses laws like this to target political opponents, amirite guys?
Jessica Melugin of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (a free market nonprofit that researches tech policies) said, “Whatever the concerns around data broadly or TikTok specifically, the RESTRICT Act is bad policy and a danger to the free speech rights of every American. If we are correct to worry about personal information in the hands of Chinese government officials, should we not also be wary of empowering an unelected bureaucrat here at home with such broad and vague discretion? Talk about throwing the First Amendment baby out with the national security bathwater.”
She’s spot on.
Furthermore, the bill also creates harsh penalties for individual citizens who violate this law by attempting to get around (or help others get around) the new restrictions. So for example, someone who used a VPN to circumvent the ban and get on TikTok could be literally prosecuted under this law, as could someone who tried to access information on foreign-owned tech companies like WeChat.
The fact that this bill has 21 bipartisan cosponsors and the full support of Biden and his administration should be enough to convince you that your own government is a threat to your well-being and your freedom. There’s no excuse for supporting this nonsense. There is no threat China could pose to us by collecting our data or influencing our algorithms that rivals that of our own representatives stripping us of our free speech rights.
Whether it be China/Commies or Middle East/Terrorists…
They never have to actually defeat us because our own Congress destroys our constitution and economy for them at the first sign of threat.
— Hannah Cox (@HannahDCox) March 29, 2023
If the US government takes these actions, China needn’t bother fighting us at all. Just as was true with the Patriot Act following the attacks on 9/11, our own government would be destroying our Constitution, our liberties, and our values faster than any foreign adversary could ever dream of.