Banning TikTok and the RESTRICT Act
Why you should be suspicious of contrived acronyms and government bans
The Dark History
September 11, 2001.
I woke up to my mom yelling “we’re at war! turn on the TV!”
Welcome to adulthood.
As a kid, I would fly back and forth from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to visit my mother. My parents would walk me to the gate, the flight attendants would give my “wings”, I’d eat peanuts, and my mom would pick me up on the other side.
Flying would never be the same. I remember seeing armed military officers in airports. I was even put on a “random” watch list and had my bags and person searched every time I flew for nearly a year.
The Patriot Act
Congress pushed through The USA PATRIOT Act (the Patriot Act) in 45 days, and thus began a dark era in American history.
The USA PATRIOT Act is an acronym that stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools to Restrict, Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.
The meaning and repercussions of this act have haunted us.
In order to prevent future terrorist attacks this act allowed the government to spy on US citizens, monitor bank accounts, and phone and email communication.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) created a breakdown.
Civil Liberties and the Age of Social Media
I started studying civil liberties in my time studying Politics at University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC).
After an incident where UCSC campus police illegally entered my dorm room, searched and seized my belongings, and arrested me for being “drunk in public” despite being in my dorm room, I started a chapter of the ACLU on my campus to inform students of their rights. While all charges were dropped, I didn’t want anyone else to experience this violation.
I learned about other contrived acronyms that were used to restrict our rights.
Namely, the RAVE Act or the Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act that banned underground parties AKA raves and was pushed through under the PROTECT Act or the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act.
My friends threw underground parties in Oakland, and I learned the RAVE Act (introduced by Joe Biden) banned things like pill testing and handing out water bottles which kept ravers safer for years. “Reducing our vulnerability to ecstasy” was a lie.
I was also getting introduced to social media.
This was 2004 and most of us were using an app called “The Facebook” at the time. Little did we know the affect social media would have on the conversation from then forward and how it could be used to undermine civil liberties.
Initially, I was suspicious of TikTok.
I saw the clips on Twitter from accounts like Libs of TikTok and others.
I heard the privacy concerns around the app accessing our phone’s data.
I like to make my own mind up about things, though. I decided to use the app myself on my iPhone, knowing some of the protections in place on Apple products, and see what the fuss was about.
I was surprised. I was able to find content from creators that I could not find on other platforms. As someone obsessed with counter narratives, conspiracies (theory or otherwise), anti-establishment viewpoints, offbeat spiritual woo-woo, and other dissident material, I was intrigued.
In general, I support people being able to create and share any type of content that they want, barring anything that harms people directly such as exploitation of minors.
This made me suspicious when the government began discussing banning the platform. Frankly, I have seen worse things on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms.
I have seen YouTube, for instance, ban content going against the established COVID narrative.
Content on TikTok, at least the material I was finding, could be considered subversive to authoritarian thought and was not the communist agenda that I expected.
The narrative is that TikTok is a Chinese owned app and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a stake in the app which means that CCP may be trying to influence American society. They were tracking Americans behavior and this could cause a security concern.
I immediately started thinking of the Patriot Act and how the US Government has already been spying on us for decades.
So, what gives? Why is TikTok being targeted?
My opinion is that the US Government hates competition.
I tuned into the congressional hearing being had and I was impressed at how well the CEO of TikTok handled himself.
Here’s his opening statement.
So, what’s the real deal?
The RESTRICT Act
One my Twitter followers shared Senate Bill 686 AKA The RESTRICT Act or Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats and Risk Information and Communications Technologies Act.
I had tweeted only a few days earlier that I found the banning TikTok discussion suspicious.
Hate to say I told you so, but I was right.
They don’t simply want to ban TikTok. They want to be able to ban whatever they want and extend the powers of the Patriot Act.
The bill is about 30 pages long so here’s the TL;DR.
Quick breakdown of S. 686
Gives the Secretary of Commerce power to impose civil and criminal penalties on use of apps, services, or products if deemed from an adversary country
Covers financial transactions and critical infrastructure (language established under the USA Patriot Act)
Foreign adversaries currently include China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela, but more can be added
Applies to any software with more than 1 million US-based active users or product with 1 million units sold to US persons or others with less users deemed a threat
Includes a wide range of technology and services, not just TikTok
Desktop applications, mobile applications, gaming applications, payment web-based information and communications, AI, quantum key communications, quantum computing, quantum cryptography, autonomous systems, advanced robotics, biotechnology, synthetic biology, computational biology, e-commerce technology and services, internet-enabled payment technology, internet-enabled logistics, online retail, and online marketplaces.
Penalties for violating the act include fines up to $1 million, imprisonment up to 20 years, or both
Unlawful acts include: violation or attempt to violate regulations or orders, aiding and abetting, solicitation, conspiracy, making false or misleading representations, and engaging in transactions or actions to violate the act
Property can be seized and forfeited in case of conviction
This means that they can ban things like Wi-Fi routers, VPNs, ecommerce stores, foreign transactions, and more. It also means if you’re caught even trying to subvert the measure then you could be jailed for up to 20 years and be fined up to $1 million.
This act, if passed, could be used to target a wide range of services and technologies, not just TikTok, and is an extension of the Patriot Act.
The RESTRICT Act is an overreach on personal freedom and privacy. It means people who use a VPN (for instance) to circumvent banning of apps like TikTok, or even companies who own a VPN, could be civilly and criminally prosecuted.
Bottom line: The RESTRICT Act is a massive violation of freedom and a threat to privacy rights, regardless of your opinions on TikTok or China.
It gives unprecedented authority to the Secretary of Commerce to monitor financial transactions and activities, data transmissions, and more.
They are using the public’s concern over TikTok to pass this measure.
Do not be fooled.
Call To Action
This bill must be vehemently opposed by anyone who cares about civil liberties.
Regardless of whether you think TikTok should be banned or not this is not the way to do it and only furthers expands the power of the US government.
I’m asking you to share this article for anyone who cares about freedom.
If you’re so inclined, call your representatives and, while it may fall on deaf ears, urge them to vote again this bill.
My adult life has been shrouded in crisis, fear, and authoritarianism. This does not mean I shall stand by as more and more of us lose our God-given and constitutionally protected freedoms.
If you’re for banning TikTok, I would urge you to consider that the apps that you currently use on your phone from Google, Facebook, and other American countries. Read the terms of service. See what they can access.
You may find that you’re already giving Twitter and Facebook as much data as what TikTok can see.
The only way to be completely private is to delete every app on your phone.
Are you willing to do that? If so, more power to you. I will continue to use whatever platforms allow me to view, create, and share relevant information.
If they ban TikTok then they can ban whatever they want. Are you willing to accept that? Not me.