May 11, 2023

Explaining the RESTRICT Act

What it is and why it’s not a good solution to China’s TikTok spying.

It is always wise to be wary when Republicans and Democrats manage to agree on a bill. This is particularly accurate when discussing the RESTRICT Act put forth by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA). RESTRICT stands for Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats That Risk Information and Communications Technology, and of the several bills presented to the Senate on the issue of social media abuses, this one has the most popular support.

This legislation came about as a response to the predations of the popular social media company TikTok. TikTok, whose parent company ByteDance is based in Beijing, has more than likely been sharing its data-mined information on its American users with the Chinese communist government. That includes both biometric and location data. On top of that, the algorithm is designed to be addictive. Not only can users not stop scrolling, but the content they are consuming is increasingly worse than just provocative dance videos.

However, one thing to take into consideration is that when crafting legislation that restricts or bans TikTok, other social media companies need to be part of the calculous as well. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, and others all data-mine their users. It’s a good rule of thumb that if a product is free, the actual product is you, the user. In this case, data-mining and microphone-tapping are used to provide users with targeted ads. It is an invasion of privacy, albeit one that mostly feels innocuous — for now.

The RESTRICT Act would delegate regulation to a bureaucrat in the executive branch. The secretary of commerce would be given carte blanche to make several decisions that are troubling, to say the least. According to Senator Rand Paul: “The bill’s application is far from limited to Tiktok or other internet-based companies. The third section of the bill would enable the Secretary of Commerce to investigate any business that is in any way subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary to determine if its transactions ‘pose an undue or unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States.’ Though the bill already designates China, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba as foreign adversaries, the RESTRICT Act also empowers the Secretary of Commerce to unilaterally add any other country to this official enemies list.”

The current secretary of commerce, Gina M. Raimondo, has already stated that banning TikTok would be a politically deleterious move for the Democrats. In an interview, she said, “The politician in me thinks you’re gonna literally lose every voter under 35, forever.”

If she follows the typical Democrat model — the pursuit of power to the detriment of everyone else — there is a chance she wouldn’t ban the social media app. That would make the very impetus for the RESTRICT Act counterproductive.

The RESTRICT Act takes away freedoms from the American people. It is just another thinly veiled attack against the First Amendment. The powers granted to the secretary of commerce give her the authority to remove, investigate, or outright censor companies that aren’t toeing the Democrat Party line. In fact, if any company resists her edicts, those responsible could go to jail for 20 years.

Do we really want that sort of power in the hands of an unelected bureaucrat?

That sane answer is no.

We have already seen what the federal government is willing to do to censor and manipulate the American people without this extra leverage. (See Hunter Biden’s laptop scandal or the blanket censorship of conservatives on most social media platforms.)

Senators like Paul (R-KY) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) have voiced their dislike for the bill, but as was mentioned above, this bill has popular bipartisan support. At least 20 senators have already signed on to it.

There needs to be a better solution that protects the American people without allowing the federal government to take away their rights and freedoms. It would be disastrous if banning TikTok for good reasons became restricting dissenting voices to maintain political power.

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