The RESTRICT Act, hailed as the much-awaited ban of TikTok, is an ineffective law that does not do enough to protect Americans while expanding government power and eroding digital freedom. Hence, an alternative is imperative.
The bipartisan legislation supported by President Biden does not mention TikTok or its parent company, ByteDance, but seeks to obviate “undue or unacceptable risk[s]” presented by technology “transactions” in which foreign adversaries (Red China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela) have an interest. Essentially, if unfriendly governments use any digital infrastructure that poses an “undue or unacceptable risk,” the executive branch can take “action as the President considers appropriate to compel divestment,” or “mitigate the risk associated with” the entity involved.
Since ByteDance is integrated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the RESTRICT Act could be used to limit TikTok. However, the law can be slow to act. Unelected officials will make decisions on whether it could harm the US, and it could take six months to prohibit it, after which the president “might” direct the attorney general to take legal action against it.
The RESTRICT Act aims to “prohibit certain transactions between persons in the United States and foreign adversaries.” However, the law’s broad language could lead to potential complications. Officials determine what makes someone a “foreign adversary,” and they can enforce mitigation measures to address any defined risk arising from any covered transaction. This could translate into the federal government using its power against American citizens.
Therefore, alternative legislation explicitly banning TikTok is necessary to address national security and cultural solvency issues. Senator Josh Hawley introduced a bill that bans TikTok from being downloaded on US devices and any commercial activity with ByteDance or any of its potential successor companies. The law directs the president to use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) to accomplish this and requires the intelligence apparatus to report to Congress any instances where Red China uses digital infrastructure to meddle in American affairs.
Similarly, Senator Marco Rubio’s proposed legislation authorizes the president to ban TikTok under the IEEPA, with exceptional provisions for gathering intelligence. Rubio’s bill casts a broader net focusing on commercial entities subservient to and emissaries of adversary nations.
Both proposals are more effective than the RESTRICT Act, and neither has the same degree of ambiguous language, making them surgical in precision and deserving of support.
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