The bipartisan “Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology” (RESTRICT) Act was introduced in the Senate to purportedly ban TikTok. However, the bill has a far broader agenda that is not limited to banning the video app. A valid national security concern is being exploited by both sides to increase surveillance powers. Bipartisanship seems rare in our polarized government, but it is alive and well when it comes to curtailing freedom.
The RESTRICT Act is aimed at countering foreign threats, particularly from China. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, although the company denies having ties to the Chinese government. To be clear, there is a legitimate argument in favor of banning TikTok—data from users in the US has been accessed from China, and in a Senate hearing, the company refused to commit to stopping the flow of user data. China is an adversary, so restricting an app with potential ties to its government is a reasonable measure.
However, this bill does not just pose a threat to China’s interests or the American “zoomers” on TikTok, it threatens the civil liberties of all Americans, with some going so far as to label it as the internet version of the Patriot Act. The RESTRICT Act’s language is so broad that it could potentially ban virtual private networks (VPNs). Those who try to circumvent its regulations to access an app like TikTok would face steep fines and 20 years in prison.
The text of the act says it will “authorize the Secretary of Commerce to review and prohibit certain transactions between persons in the United States and foreign adversaries, and for other purposes.” The bill is aimed at supposed “national security threats” and “foreign adversaries.” Who determines if a person or entity is a national security threat? The bill gives the Secretary along with the Director of National Intelligence authority to determine who or what meets the criteria. To overturn that designation would require a “joint resolution” from Congress. This alone should bring pause because, as history has demonstrated repeatedly, anyone can be deemed a “national security threat.”
The White House is in favor of the RESTRICT Act and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan put out a press release urging Congress to send the bill to President Biden’s desk. Keep in mind that this is the same administration that launched a “National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism.” In a statement in August 2021, the Department of Homeland Security seemingly categorized those opposed to the Covid-19 lockdowns as “anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists.” Those who believe our government will not abuse its power to surveil and arrest American citizens are sadly mistaken.
There are valid concerns about the threat of China, but allowing our government to have broad powers over the internet is not the solution. If the past few years have proven anything, it is that those in power have little regard for the Constitution and our civil liberties. The Biden administration has targeted Christians, parents at school board meetings, and animal rights activists all under the umbrella of “domestic terrorism.”
With all the outrage over China spying on Americans and stealing their data, people have forgotten the abuses of power the US government has inflicted on its citizens in the name of “national security.” The Patriot Act rapidly expanded the government’s ability to unleash the surveillance state on Americans, and the RESTRICT Act is merely an extension of this unconstitutional policy. Expanding the government’s surveillance powers will only make the United States more like China. America is viewed as a bastion of freedom, but those freedoms have been steadily eroded in the name of addressing foreign threats.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.