China has called on the United States to stop “unreasonably suppressing” TikTok by 2023. on March 16, when Washington gave the popular video-sharing app an ultimatum to part ways with its Chinese owners or face a nationwide ban. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images.
Last month, the RESTRICTION Act, a bill that could ban TikTok nationwide, was introduced in the Senate.
TikTok bans have bipartisan support, but critics call the law an “intrusion on our freedom of speech.”
GOP Sen. JD Vance of Ohio called the bill “the PATRIOT Act for the digital age.”
The ban on TikTok has become one of the only bipartisan issues on which lawmakers see eye-to-eye.
From Montana’s ban on a social media app that will affect nearly every personal device in the state to the Senate’s unanimous approval to ban it from all government devices, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers agree that the short-form video app — and its parent company, the Beijing-based ByteDance must go.
Citing national security concerns over reports that the Chinese government may be using the app to monitor American citizens or promote propaganda to mostly teenagers, former President Trump and the current Biden administration have backed legislation to ban TikTok.
One of the most common proposals is a bill currently making its way through Congress. But the RESTRICTION law — touted as a way to ban TikTok nationwide — would prevent users from accessing the app known for its viral dance routines and conspiracy theory videos.
Representatives for TikTok and ByteDance, its parent company, did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
LIMITATION Act explained
The Security Threats that Endanger Information and Communications Technology Act, or Senate Bill 686, was sponsored by the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat of Indiana, along with Republican John Thune of South Dakota. a bipartisan group of 12 senators, including Debra Fischer of Nebraska, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
If passed, the bill would not target TikTok specifically. Instead, it would authorize the Secretary of Commerce, at the direction of the president, to restrict or ban digital products and services in countries he considers foreign enemies: China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.
Information or communications products or services used by more than 1,000,000 US users, such as ByteDance’s TikTok app, as well as web hosting services, cloud data storage, machine learning services, and other applications that are identified as poses an “unreasonable or unacceptable risk to national security” would be subject to such regulation.
If a U.S.-based person or company violates a restriction issued under the RESTRICTION Act, such as a person downloading a prohibited program or a company distributing software deemed to pose an unreasonable risk, they will be subject to civil penalties of up to $250,000 (or twice values). of the transaction that was the basis of the order, whichever is greater) and in criminal sanctions up to 1 million. USD fines and up to 20 years in prison.
“The threat everyone is talking about today is TikTok and how it could enable surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party or facilitate the spread of malicious influence campaigns in the United States.” However, before TikTok, Huawei and ZTE threatened. telecommunication networks of our country. And before that, Russia’s Kaspersky Lab threatened the security of government and corporate installations,” Senator Warner said in a statement announcing the legislation.
He added, “We need a comprehensive, risk-based approach that proactively combats the sources of potentially dangerous technologies before they become entrenched in America, so we don’t play Whac-A-Mole and try to catch up once they’re already everywhere.”
Representatives for Senator Warner did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
A bill critical to protecting national security?
Proponents of the bill, including the Biden administration, CNN reported, see the RESTRICT Act as a critical step toward protecting the country from digital surveillance and other digital threats from foreign adversaries.
“This legislation would empower the United States government to prevent certain foreign governments from exploiting US-based technology services in a way that would endanger classified American data and our national security,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in March. about the account.
Sullivan’s statement continued: “Critically, this would strengthen our ability to address the discrete risks posed by individual transactions and the systemic risks posed by certain classes of transactions involving countries of concern in sensitive technology sectors.”
Supporters of the bill, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, say the recent escalation of U.S. surveillance in China, such as the downing of spy balloons across the country in February, makes now the time to act to protect national security.
“By exporting hardware, malware and other covert tools, China has sought to steal information to gain military and economic advantage,” Senator Collins said in a statement announcing the legislation. “This will directly improve our national security, as well as protect Americans’ personal information and our nation’s vital intellectual property.”
Or “a blatant invasion of our freedom of speech”?
While supporters of the bill say it would protect Americans from foreign threats, critics say its negative effects could range from diminishing cultural exchange to outright violating the First Amendment.
“A US ban on TikTok is a ban on exporting American culture and values to the billion people who use our services around the world,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter told CNN in a statement about the legislation.
Even those who support a ban on TikTok, such as Senator JD Vance of Ohio, do not see the RESTRICTION Act as an adequate solution.
“One group of people is very concerned that it’s too weak on TikTok,” Insider’s Vance previously reported. “There’s another group of people who are very concerned that you’re creating the PATRIOT Act for the digital age,” he said, referring to the controversial law passed after 2001. September 11 terrorist attacks, which gave the feds wide-ranging surveillance powers. the government.
Others say the bill’s language is too broad and could make services like VPNs, which help provide extra digital security while surfing the web, illegal. Willmary Escoto, a policy analyst at Access Now, a US digital rights nonprofit, told VICE: “As written, the broad language of the RESTRICT Act could mean that VPN use could be considered a crime, which would greatly affect access to security tools and other programs that vulnerable people trust. privacy and security’.
Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute, told Insider that the RESTRICT Act’s purpose is to allow the government to veto software that allows people to talk to each other and poses a significant threat to Americans’ First Amendment rights.
“I completely reject the assumptions of the law. So the details don’t really matter to me because I don’t think the government should be able to do what the law restricts under any circumstances. Goldman told Insider, adding, “The argument is that there is some kind of social policy that should give the government the right to just push software out of the country. And in my opinion, this is not the beginning. an invasion of our freedom of speech”.
Under the bill, lawmakers say the software contains conversations that the government deems fundamentally objectionable, based on where the software comes from, Goldman said, which he says is completely unacceptable.
“It’s worth fighting for, pull the pitchfork kind of moment where the government says we’re just not going to let people talk to each other,” Goldman said. “I mean, everything about it is messed up.”
Bilateral Agreement on Censorship
Goldman argued that the Chinese government can obtain data on American users in thousands of different ways, so banning the software from the country, he said, is an anti-China rant that acts as low-hanging fruit for politicians to follow and nothing more. meaningful regulation that would transform digital security across the country.
“If there was a serious effort to fix any problem with TikTok, it would prompt us to pass some kind of national privacy law,” Goldman said. But the U.S. government doesn’t want to give up its ability to monitor its own citizens or stop collecting its own information on foreign entities using the same methods China does, he said. “It just goes to show how this is all just a bad form of political theatre. Because we are actually undermining our own moral authority by trying to use censorship as a solution to Chinese censorship.”
While the bill’s future remains uncertain, Goldman noted that Trump’s attempt to ban TikTok has been ruled unconstitutional and believes RESTRICT is likely to fail as well. But seeing such widespread, bipartisan support for the bill raises concerns about the reasons why divided politicians want to compromise.
“It’s rare to see such bipartisan support these days. So the fact that both parties are lining up to, you know, somehow outdo each other in their sinophobia is not a good sign for free speech. Basically, we’ve seen both sides say that censorship is a priority here, and that puts us at a much greater risk,” Goldman said.
He added: “It’s so tempting to support a bipartisan effort that we think, ‘Well, both sides agree, it must be great because they can’t agree on anything’ — or it could be a sign that the only thing Now getting a bipartisan deal, these ideas are really terrible. It could be that this is where we are. Seriously, what do we agree on? Censorship is a bipartisan value.”