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Is The RESTRICT Act the Right Tool To Reign in TikTok?
Congress seems poised to outlaw TikTok but is the potential damage not worth the benefits?
I have written many times about the dangers of TikTok and the need for the service to be curtailed or outright prohibited. It is a known fact that the platform takes unprecedented liberties with users data , has a detrimental effect on the mental health of its users including and especially on children , and that is is ripe for voter manipulation . With all this and more in mind Congress seems poised to pass the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act, also known as the “RESTRICT Act”, on a bipartisan basis. In response, supporters of TikTok have gone on the offensive in the hopes of preventing passage. As the controversy grows the question of what the RESTRICT Act does and whether it should become law have grown louder and louder.
What does the RESTRICT Act Say?
The RESTRICT Act authorizes Secretary Gina Raimondo of the Commerce Department to review and prohibit transactions between individuals in the United States and "foreign adversaries" . It’s intention is to ban platforms like TikTok, although the company is never mentioned by name in the 50 some odd page bill, that these adversaries may use to impact the Country’s infrastructure or digital economy, sabotage or subvert the United States Government, interfere or manipulate in federal elections, and (more broadly) undermining the democratic process to "steer policy and regulatory decisions in favor of the strategic objectives of [said] adversary to the detriment of the national security of the United States".
The Act goes on to define foreign adversary as any foreign government or regime, determined by the Commerce Secretary to have engaged in a long-term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to the national security of the United States. It goes on to specifically name the governments of China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea as some examples of the countries the Act targets.
What do supporters say about the RESTRICT Act?
Supporters of the act claim that is a "a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans" . The Countries listed in the act and other bad actors, supporters claim, are using technology in increasingly dangerous ways that require new, modern solutions such as the RESTRICT Act. In a statement clarifying the purpose of the bill, Senator Warner (D–Va.) states that it was intended to target corporate entities, not individual citizens, although no such protective language has been inserted into the bill itself.
The RESTRICT Act, proponents argue, is the tool the government needs to fight in a digital age when foreign actors can mine and weaponize the data of millions of American citizens. “Maybe your average American is used to data being collected on them and, again, they’re desensitized and don’t really care about it,” said retired FBI Agent and GlobalSecurityIQ founder Holly Hubert. “In totality, all of that data when it’s in the hands of, perhaps the Chinese government – which is our number one threat, it’s our number one foreign adversary in terms of spying against us – it can be dangerous and risky” .
What do opponents say about the RESTRICT Act?
As the arguments for the passage of the RESTRICT Act grow so to do the voices in opposition. Opponents from both the right and the left claim the law is over-broad, unnecessary, and perhaps even unconstitutional.
Those who are seeking to stop the Act from becoming law have begun referring to as the second coming of the Patriot Act and warning that it will usher in a new era of unprecedented digital surveillance of American citizens. The RESTRICT Act, Republicans and Democrats argue, would give the executive brand unchecked power to censor the internet in the United States.
What social media platform, they argue, cannot be said to have manipulated or effected federal elections? Could the Act be used to ban Facebook and Twitter, both of which were allegedly used by Russia in 2016 to effect the Presidential Election, for interference due to both companies having foreign investors? Could Amazon be curtailed or eliminated due to the number of foreign actors who use it to sell gadgets created using stolen American intellectual property which thereby harms the American economy?
The RESTRICT Act is too powerful a weapon to be allowed to exist and should not be allowed to pass lest we see the internet change forever, according to the Act’s opponents.
What is the timetable on passage of the RESTRICT Act?
Both supporters and opponents of the RESTRICT Act have taken to the internet and the airwaves to pressure Congress in one direction of another. Ads have been taken out, commercials are allegedly running in the nations capital, and various online activists have taken to posting messages across Reddit in order to create a groundswell of local support.
As of March 7th, 2023 the RESTRICT Act bill is only in the first stage of the legislative process. Having been introduced to Congress it will now be considered by committee before being sent to the House and Senate separately .