OPINION: RESTRICT Act aims to give unrestricted power to totalitarian bureaucrats

On March 7, Sen. Mark R. Warner and John Thune introduced legislation aimed at banning that is worse for Americans than anything TikTok is doing to our country. Sen. John W. Warner and John Thune introduced the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act, which is a bill aimed at banning TikTok, the social media giant that allows users to watch or create short-form videos anywhere from three seconds to ten minutes long. If passed, this bill gives the Department of Commerce the right to “review, prevent, and mitigate information communications and technology transactions that pose undue risk to our national security.”

While TikTok is clearly problematic and their data collection and affiliation with the CCP needs to be addressed, the RESTRICT Act is a horrible idea. Many critics of the RESTRICT Act refer to it as “PATRIOT Act 2.0,” and it is easy to understand why. RESTRICT puts far too much power in the hands of the government, and completely abandons any protections of free speech that were established by the First Amendment.

Over the last decade, China has cemented itself as one of the few real superpowers on the world stage and a clear international threat. 

From the Chinese Communist Party’s alleged cover-up of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, to their neo-colonialist development of Africa through the Belt and Road Initiative, to their internment camps in the Xinjiang province, China’s meteoric rise to power over the past decade has certainly raised a few eyebrows.

Lately, the CCP’s new favorite practice has been espionage. Whether it is through clear military efforts of espionage, like a “weather balloon,” or through other non-military methods, it is clear that the CCP wishes to collect information from the west. 

TikTok’s use of user data has been widely criticized by the U.S. government for years, with former President Donald Trump attempting to ban it in August of 2020. The Trump Administration alleged that TikTok’s data collection practices allowed the CCP to access all sorts of personal information on any individual who may use the app, and would also allow China to use this data to “build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.”

The former president also pointed out the fact that TikTok had censored speech critical of the CCP, including content about their treatment of the Uyghurs and the origins of COVID-19. 

Despite all of this information brought to light, Trump’s proposal to ban TikTok was dead on arrival as soon as President Joe Biden took office. In a move that was pure political theater, Biden made it his quest to reverse all of his predecessor’s signature executive orders, including the proposed banning of TikTok, which was reversed just six months after he took office. 

Despite his “orange man bad” approach to the former president’s views on TikTok, it seems that Biden has flip-flopped, and taken the exact same stance, threatening to ban the app in the U.S. unless its Chinese owners sell off their stakes in the company.

If there is one thing that we have learned throughout history since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is that the government can not be trusted to do the right thing with the power it may be given under the guise of “protecting” the U.S. and its interests. The PATRIOT Act was enacted with the hopes of being able to detect and prevent terrorism at home and abroad, but as Edward Snowden helped us all to realize, the government ended up using these newfound powers to acquire personal information from Americans — becoming no different than the CCP — and their data collection practices with TikTok. 

If the RESTRICT Act is enacted, Americans can kiss free speech on the internet goodbye. This legislation would give absolute power to the government to ban entire communications platforms without even needing a reason for it. 

As the saying goes, any freedom can be given up with the stroke of a pen, but may take entire wars to get back. 

Our leaders must understand that they work for us, and we do not work for them. Allowing the government to suppress free speech is exactly what our founders warned us of. 

And one more thing: Pardon Edward Snowden.