The RESTRICT (TikTok) Act — power grab?
It’s not often that Democrats and Republican come together. But when they do, we should probably pay attention. Sometimes it’s a good thing, but other times it might very well be a Trojan Horse. Proceed with caution.
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, that there’s a strong possibility of TikTok getting banned in the U.S., or else being forced to shed its Chinese ownership. Some see this move as a violation of freedom of speech, whereas others see China as a serious national security threat.
The potential security violations are twofold 1) The app is installed on phones and can be used to spy on individuals if the company is pressured to do so by the CCP, which is known for its human rights violations and 2) The algorithm can be used to push or hide content that manipulates narratives. Since we’ve seen how all of our social media platforms are capable of the latter, I’m particularly concerned about the former in the case of TikTok.
Regardless of where you fall on the TikTok debate, it’s particularly important to take a look at the bill itself and not get too sidetracked by the infinite scrolling app.
That’s where it gets interesting…
Formally called Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act—or RESTRICT Act for short—it would grant the Commerce Department broad powers to regulate tech produced by six countries that have, shall we say, more adversarial relationships with the U.S. These include China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela.
Aside from social media, it would also cover technologies like AI, FinTech, quantum computing, e-commerce, cloud services, drones, payment apps, satellites, content delivery services, and mobile networks, and others.
It includes current, past, as well as potential future transactions based on the phrasing in the bill.
Suffice it to say, it’s a rather ambitious bill aimed far beyond the scope of just TikTok and grants the Commerce Department pretty significant executive rights.
“The Secretary, in consultation with the relevant executive department and agency heads, is authorized to and shall take action 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—”
Critics of the Act have suggested that given how broad and vaguely-phrased it is, it can be used to limit the use of VPNs, for example, as well as other software with over 1 million users in the U.S.
Some have interpreted the language in the bill to imply that anyone who uses a VPN to access an app controlled by a "foreign adversary" could be subject to up to $1 million in fines, 20 years in prison—or possibly both.
It’s important to note that a spokesperson for Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who introduced the bill, told Daily Dot that the punishments stated in the bill aren’t aimed against ordinary citizens:
“Under the terms of the bill, someone must be engaged in ‘sabotage or subversion’ of American communications technology products and services, creating ‘catastrophic effects’ on U.S. critical infrastructure, or ‘interfering in, or altering the result’ of a federal election, in order to be eligible for any kind of criminal penalty … To be extremely clear, this legislation is aimed squarely at companies like Kaspersky, Huawei, and TikTok that create systemic risks to the United States’ national security—not at individual users.”
Now, it may very well not be the intention of the bill to be used this way against individuals. But, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The problem with the bill, as is, whether intentionally so or not, is just how overreaching and broad it is. It leaves too much wiggle room for interpretation and it justifies some amount of skepticism as to why the language isn’t much more precise and narrow.
And just like the efforts to pass it are bi-partisan, those speaking out against it seem to be of all political stripes as well.
It’s definitely worth giving it a read for yourself and figuring out your own stand on it.
What are your thoughts on the Bill? TikTok? Leave a comment below!
☕️ Want to support my work by making a donation and buying me a coffee? Here’s how.
NOTICE TO READERS: Thank you for keeping me company. Although I try to make many posts public and available for free access, to ensure sustainability and future growth—if you can—please consider becoming a paid subscriber. In addition to supporting my work, it will also give you access to an archive of member-only posts. And if you’re already a paid subscriber, THANK YOU. Please also share, like, and comment. Got ideas for future posts? Email me.