By Daisy Luther
March 31, 2023
Like many Generation X folks, I've complained long and hard about TikTok and the brainwashing effects on young people of 15-30-second intervals of entertaining social programming for hours at a time. I have also been concerned about the Chinese ownership of TikTok - is this just a giant psy-op?
So when I heard that Congress was finally getting ready to ban the app, I was curious. I do see inherent dangers with TikTok. I do believe it's being used to both spy and brainwash our young people. But should it actually be banned? And what door does such a ban open to further restrictions on our freedom?
Of course, I soon learned this was anything but good. Just like the Patriot Act has little to do with patriotism and the National Defense Authorization Act has more to do with indefinite detention without trials than national defense, the bill to ban TikTok is about much, much more.
It's about silencing dissent...brutally. And it will affect every single one of us.
Please note that there's more than one bill in the works. This article is specifically about the one that is most likely to pass, a worrisome, bipartisan effort.
It's called the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act or the RESTRICT Act. As a blogger, I look at this and find it terrifying. As an American, I look at this and want to weep for the freedoms that our government continues to crush.
It's up to us to act on this information and produce a public outcry that cannot be ignored. If this passes, you won't hear about the dangers of CBDCs, where we're sending our money instead of helping our own citizens, or the shortcomings of the banking industry. You won't be able to get alternative information from blogs and YouTube and Twitter. Instead, your information will come from the mainstream media, and they will be a mouthpiece for the agenda of whoever is in power.
You may dislike TikTok as much as I do, but it doesn't warrant throwing the free speech baby out with the Chinese bathwater.
Let's take a look at this bill.
What's the RESTRICT Act all about?
Here's the introduction. (Emphasis is mine.)
This bill requires federal actions to identify and mitigate foreign threats to information and communications technology (ICT) products and services. It also establishes civil and criminal penalties for violations under the bill.
Specifically, the Department of Commerce must identify, deter, disrupt, prevent, prohibit, investigate, and mitigate transactions involving ICT products and services (1) in which any foreign adversary has any interest, and (2) that pose an undue or unacceptable risk to U.S. national security or the safety of U.S. persons.
Commerce may (1) designate any foreign government or regime as a foreign adversary upon a determination that the foreign government or regime is engaged in a long-term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to U.S. national security or the security and safety of U.S. persons, and (2) remove such a designation. Commerce must notify Congress before making or removing a designation; these actions are subject to congressional disapproval.
The bill outlines (1) enforcement mechanisms, including actions by the Department of Justice; and (2) civil and criminal penalties for violations.
When you read this, it sounds like we're ONLY preventing people outside the US from influencing people within the US, particularly for monetary gain. But pay attention because it's not that clear-cut once you get into the text of the bill.
First, it names our "adversaries" as China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela.
But it gives the government the freedom to deem anyone a national security risk and go after them with everything they've got. The vagueness and broadness of the language in this bill should alarm everyone who believes in the right to privacy and free speech. From Section 3:
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...
Does that sound to you like it'll just be limited to the sneaky Chinese running TikTok or those pesky Russians?
They can access anything on the unlucky victim's computer: video games, banking information, chats, and anything their computer has connected to, like a Ring doorbell camera or a smart appliance.
Think about how adamant the government has been about silencing voices like ours on this website. Think about how they've gone after the Alternative Media for years. We've been downgraded, demonetized, deplatformed, and demonized in the eyes of the public. All for the thoughtcrime of questioning the government. All because we don't swallow what we're spoonfed. All because we exercise our constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech and a free press.
How long do you think it is before we're targeted by this bill? And then, once our computers are seized and every aspect of our digital lives is open to the prying eyes of the government, how long do you think it will be before people who consume or share this content are also targeted?
What happens to those deemed a threat?
Section 10 explains how anyone can be investigated and deemed a threat.
Section 11 addresses a lengthy list of proposed unlawful acts, many of which are too vague to really nail down, and thus could be used as a broad brush to paint nearly anyone with conflicting opinions as guilty. Any one committing one of these unlawful acts could be subject to harsh civil and criminal penalties. Civilly, they could face a fine of a quarter million dollars. Criminally, it gets far, far worse. From Section 11:
(1) IN GENERAL.-A person who willfully commits, willfully attempts to commit, or willfully conspires to commit, or aids or abets in the commission of an unlawful act described in subsection (a) shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $1,000,000, or if a natural person, may be imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both.
Also, once they're convicted, they'll face criminal forfeiture.
(i) any property, real or personal, tangible or intangible, used or intended to be used, in any manner, to commit or facilitate the violation or attempted violation of paragraph (1); and
(ii) any property, real or personal, tangible or intangible, constituting or traceable to the gross proceeds taken, obtained, or retained, in connection with or as a result of the violation.
So they could fine a person a million dollars, throw them in jail for 20 years, and take everything that they own, which may have been paid for by the proceeds of their business.
What about the Freedom of Information Act?
To ice the unconstitutional cupcake, none of this is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. If you go to Section 15, part 2:
Any information submitted to the Federal Government by a party to a covered transaction in accordance with this Act, as well as any information the Federal Government may create relating to review of the covered transaction, is exempt from disclosure under section 552 of title 5, United States Code (commonly referred to as the "Freedom of Information Act").
Nobody will ever be able to get the information needed to help you, should you fall victim to the act. It also provides for unlimited hiring power to enforce this act, with no budget limit.
What about VPNs?
There are some claims that VPN users could be subject to 20 years in prison and a million-dollar fine, also, if they're using this to get around the US restrictions on a banned website or app.
In the text of the bill, I cannot confirm that this is true. There's no mention of it directly, and the closest thing I could find that even suggested that such a thing could be illegal was in section 11, where it says:
"(F) No person may engage in any transaction or take any other action with intent to evade the provisions of this Act, or any regulation, order, direction, mitigation measure, prohibition, or other authorization or directive issued thereunder."
Newsweek (take this for what it's worth) says that VPN users need have no fear.
The ban's criminal penalties, which include a fine up to a million dollar and/or imprisonment of up to 20 years, has caused some alarm among the bill's observers, who have questioned whether some TikTok fanatics might face jail time for using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to get around the ban and access the app.
But a spokesperson for Senator Mark Warner, the bill's sponsor, told Newsweek that it would not apply to individual users.
"Under the terms of the bill, someone must be engaged in 'sabotage or subversion' of communications technology in the U.S., causing 'catastrophic effects' on U.S. critical infrastructure, or 'interfering in, or altering the result' of a federal election in order for criminal penalties to apply," Warner's communications director, Rachel Cohen, said.
"The bill is squarely aimed at companies like Kaspersky, Huawei and TikTok that create systemic risks to the United States' national security, not individual users," she clarified.
None of this really sets my mind at ease and the vagueness of how this is laid out is as concerning as it always is when the government gives themselves space to change the rules.
For more information, check out this thread by the Libertarian Party Mises Caucus. You can also check out the video below if you prefer an audio version of the discussion about the bill. (Start around 2:30.)
Who is sponsoring the bill?
I have been saying for years that one party really isn't better than the other and it's ringing true with this bipartisan piece of proposed legislature. Both sides want to take away your freedom.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Mark Walker [D-VA] and the following senators are co-sponsors. Here's who is behind this.
- Sen. Thune, John [R-SD]
- Sen. Fischer, Deb [R-NE]
- Sen. Moran, Jerry [R-KS]
- Sen. Sullivan, Dan [R-AK]
- Sen. Collins, Susan M. [R-ME]
- Sen. Romney, Mitt [R-UT]
- Sen. Capito, Shelley Moore [R-WV]
- Sen. Cramer, Kevin [R-ND]
- Sen. Grassley, Chuck [R-IA]
- Sen. Tillis, Thomas [R-NC]
- Sen. Graham, Lindsey [R-SC]
- Sen. Crapo, Mike [R-ID]
- Sen. Boozman, John [R-AR]
- Sen. Baldwin, Tammy [D-WI]
- Sen. Manchin, Joe, III [D-WV]
- Sen. Bennet, Michael F. [D-CO]
- Sen. Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [D-NY]
- Sen. Heinrich, Martin [D-NM]
- Sen. Lujan, Ben Ray [D-NM]
- Sen. Kaine, Tim [D-VA]
- Sen. Blumenthal, Richard [D-CT]
- Sen. Hickenlooper, John W. [D-CO]
- Sen. Kelly, Mark [D-AZ]
- Sen. Welch, Peter [D-VT]
- Sen. King, Angus S., Jr. [I-ME]
As you can see, this is truly a bipartisan attempt to screw the American people.
This isn't the only anti-TikTok bill.
Yesterday, Sen. Josh Hawley [R-AR] tried to fast-track his bill to ban TikTok, which would direct the president to use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act within 30 days to block and prohibit transactions with TikTok's parent company ByteDance.
His effort was blocked by Senator Rand Paul [R-KY]. Paul said:
"There are two main reasons why we might not want to do this. The one would be the First Amendment to the Constitution. Speech is protected whether you like it or not. The second reason would be that the Constitution actually prohibits bills of attainder," he said before objecting.
"This fails on two egregious points, pretty obvious points. I think we ought to think about that," he added.
The Constitution prohibits bills of attainder, which allow the government to punish individuals or groups without a trial.
Paul suggested that proponents of banning TikTok are peddling fear and argued that domestic Big Tech companies also collect vast amounts of data from American users without much scrutiny or interference from the federal government.
"I think we should be aware of those who peddle fear. I think we should be aware of those who use fear to coax Americans to relinquish our liberties," he said. "Every accusation of data-gathering that's been attributed to TikTok could also be attributed to domestic Big Tech companies."
This is not an attack on TikTok. It's an attack on free speech.
Believe me when I tell you, this is not just to prohibit the Chinese social media giant, TikTok. It's an out-and-out attack on free speech, particularly that of the dissenting variety. If passed, it reminds me of the Great Firewall of China. Is that really how you want the American Internet to be? Only government-approved apps and points of view would be available for your consumption?
Anyone who thinks that this is worthwhile is part of the problem. And that includes every senator who is sponsoring this bill and everyone who votes for it. We all need to reach out to the offices of our local Senators. Every single one of us needs to write, call, email, and make ourselves heard. Here's a link provided by reader John Q to find your governmental representatives.
We need to share with everyone we know that this bill IS NOT WHAT IT SEEMS TO BE.
We have fought against censorship before. People like us were noisy and angry and we stopped the Disinformation Governance Board before it got off the ground. We have made our voices heard and taken back our power before.
We need to do it again.
And we need to do it while we still can.
Reprinted with permission from The Organic Prepper.