Those of us who think the Red Chinese social media app TikTok is a security threat were initially pleased with various state and federal government attempts to keep the spy app off devices that might have access to sensitive information.
However, S.686, the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act or the appropriately titled “RESTRICT Act” introduced by Democrat Senator Mark Warner of Virginia is the wrong approach because the authorities granted in the bill could be used to censor any website in America, not just TikTok.
As our friend Robert Romano wrote for Americans for Limited Government’s Daily Torch newsletter, the legislation would authorize the Secretary of Commerce to “identify, deter, disrupt, prevent, prohibit, investigate, or otherwise mitigate, including by negotiating, entering into, or imposing, and enforcing any mitigation measure to address any risk arising from any covered transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States that the Secretary determines… poses an undue or unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States…”
Read that again, asked Mr. Romano. It says “by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States…” That could be anything.
Or any website that is determined to be “interfering in, or altering the result or reported result of a Federal election, as determined in coordination with the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of Treasury, and the Federal Election Commission…”
Meaning, it would potentially become illegal to question the “reported result” of any federal election, since questioning the results could potentially “interfere” with public acceptance of the result. How else does one “interfere” with the “reported result” of a federal election?
Setting aside the obvious breach of the First Amendment by making asking questions a crime, the bill also tramples on anything remotely resembling due process by allowing bureaucrats and political appointees to act as prosecutor, judge and executioner for any website or app they decide they don’t like because it contradicts the current government.
What’s more, Senator Rand Paul has concluded that not only is giving the government more power to censor the internet a bad idea – it’s bad politics too.
In an op-ed for the Louisville Courier Journal, Sen. Paul argued that seeking a ban on TikTok was not just bad policy, but bad politics.
"Congressional Republicans have come up with a national strategy to permanently lose elections for a generation," he wrote. According to TikTok, the app now has 150 million active monthly users in the United States.
The Business Insider reported Sen. Paul, a staunch libertarian, went on to compare the idea of banning the app to the purported "canceling and censoring" of conservatives on social media, and said that the US would only be emulating China if they sought to ban the app.
"Before banning TikTok, these censors might want to discover that China's government already bans TikTok," wrote Paul. "Hmmm... do we really want to emulate China's speech bans?"
In recent weeks, calls to ban TikTok over concerns over Chinese government surveillance have only grown in Washington, noted the Business Insider. Several members of Congress have introduced bills to ban the app, and at a House hearing last week, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced blistering questions from both Republicans and Democrats.
However, Senator Paul is not alone in his skepticism about giving the federal government more power to ban websites and social media apps.
"I'm a little less enthusiastic about an all-out ban of it," Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota told the Business Insider in February. "What I don't want is to create a trend where every time we get irritated with somebody, we ban their product from our country altogether."
Paul's position puts him at odds with other prominent Republicans like Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri, who have both introduced nationwide TikTok ban bills.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the highest-ranking elected Republican in Washington, said on Twitter this week that he supported "moving forward" with legislation that could result in a ban.
If the purpose of the legislation was to simply target TikTok, China and the Chinese Communist Party, why does it in fact potentially cover every single website in America, asked Mr. Romano. In fact, the legislation is not narrowly tailored to forcing divestiture of TikTok by Chinese entities. Why not? Maybe it’s because banning TikTok is simply a pretext to censoring everything.
The Capitol Switchboard is (202-224-3121), call today and tell your Senators and Representative that S.686, the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act – the appropriately titled “RESTRICT Act” introduced by Democrat Senator Mark Warner of Virginia – is the wrong approach to the problem of TikTok’s potential to compromise national security because the authorities granted in the bill could be used to censor any website in America, not just TikTok.
Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act
Senator Mark Warner
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew
TikTok ban bills