Beware the Restrict Act: AKA the TikTok Ban

By Taylor Rice

Almost everyone has heard about the alleged “TikTok Ban” and the government’s efforts to remove TikTok from the United States. However, the details of the “TikTok Ban” should make you pause and think. The politicians are using the fears of the Chinese government spying through the TikTok app to establish a broad legislation that affects much more than the act itself. 

The “TikTok Ban” is actually called the “Restricting the Emergency of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act” or Senate Bill 686. It doesn’t mention TikTok, or its parent company “ByteDance,” or Social Media in general. The Bill proposed by Democratic Senator Mark Warner and multiple cosponsors, including Republican Senator John Thune, would give the Commerce Department and the White House extensive new authority. 

The Bill wouldn’t target TikTok specifically. According to the bill, it would give the Secretary of Commerce the authority to “review and prohibit certain transactions between persons in the United States and foreign adversaries, and for other purposes.” 

Foreign adversaries are defined in the text as: China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela. The Secretary of Commerce is also allowed to designate new foreign adversaries “in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence.”

The Secretary of Commerce would be capable of restricting or banning digital products and services from these “foreign adversaries.” The Communication services or products with more than 1,000,000 US users (like TikTok) along with internet hosting services, cloud-based data storage, machine learning devices, and other apps that are suspected to be “an undue or unacceptable risk to national security” would be subject to the regulation. 

That itself is broad jurisdiction, but it gets worse under section 8, “IMPLEMENTING AUTHORITIES.” The text states that the Secretary can “establish such rules, regulations, and procedures as the Secretary considers appropriate.” The section later continues, “The Secretary may undertake any other action as necessary to carry out the responsibilities under this Act that is not otherwise prohibited by the law.” The wording is very vague, putting little to no limits on the Secretary’s abilities. 

The Bill isn’t just about foreign apps either. The text of the bill states, “No person may cause or aid, abet, counsel, command, induce, procure, permit, or approve the doing of any act prohibited by, or the omission of any act required by any regulation, order, direction, mitigation measure, prohibition, or other authorization or directive issued under, this Act.” This would make it arguable that using American VPNs to evade the foreign service restrictions is illegal according to the bill. 

In regards to civil penalties, the secretary will impose the punishment. Violators would be subject to “A fine of not more than $250,000 or an amount that is twice the value of the transaction that is the basis of the violation with respect to which the penalty is imposed, whichever is greater.”

For criminal penalties, a person who willingly commits, attempts, conspires, aids, or abets in an “unlawful act” as described by the Bill, will be charged a fine of no “more than $1,000,000, or…may be imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both.”

The RESTRICT Act is so broad that it’s hard to see where the powers start and end. As stated by the “Reason,” “Open-ended bills crafted to exploit popular panics make for terrible legislation.”

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