Will the RESTRICT Act facilitate domestic surveillance in favour of foreign surveillance?
Officials in the US Congress have proposed a bill to ban Tik Tok nationwide to prevent any attempts at foreign surveillance and data collection introduced by the Democratic Senator, Mark Warner from Virginia on March 7.
The bipartisan bill received heavy traction in the more right-wing sphere sections of the internet, with many claiming the bill acts as the younger, more aggressive sibling of the Patriot Act signed in 2001. Twitter user Greg Price, labelled the bill “absolutely terrifying.”
While not explicitly referencing the Chinese social media app, the Restrict Act would provide the US with the authority to seize or prohibit any “communications or data collection technology” that it deems a threat to national security. In the past, threats to national security have come thick and fast when the United States finds it necessary to strengthen their global hegemony.
By definition and if the bill is signed into law it would provide specific departments licence to withhold information technologies. These departments being the Chamber of Commerce and the White House. According to Politico, the bill would “deprive” TikTok the safety of a legal loophole that stopped the Trump admin banning it. The bill is also apparently high up on Biden’s agenda as the President wishes to limit the range of the Chinese-owned app.
The bill was sponsored just days after TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, was grilled in front of Congress regarding the damaging effect TikTok has on teen’s mental health and its facilitation of dangerous cultures like glamorising drugs and violence. Chew spent five hours testifying in front of Congress, mainly eschewing concerns about data collection fears by focusing on Project TEXAS, which is an effort to move all data to American servers. Chew ran through these details while combating questions from Senators who were confused by the app's relationship with the Internet.
Chew seemed to stumble through his answers which may explain why the proposed RESTRICT Act had such strong bipartisan support. Answers regarding whether the app had spied on US journalists did little to waver concerns about American security interests when Chew responded that “spying isn’t the correct way to describe it.” Whether TikTok is the primary culprit for the alarming rate of mental illness in teens is another question, however it no doubt facilitates it. The real issue is that the mental health crisis is most likely a result of our phones in general.
It is also ironic that while the US spreads fear among a public desperate for some action against the Chinese, the argument of foreign surveillance should not appear as their paramount concern. Recently, journalists breaking the Twitter files have referenced how Twitter was utilised by a wide-range of domestic surveillance organisations like the NSA, CIA, FBI and Department of Homeland Security. A bill banning TikTok would more likely be an attempt to reinforce the US’s domestic surveillance strength rather than weaken China’s foreign one. Michael Shellenberger wrote consistently about a growing number of security agencies utilising social media to spy on the public.
Whether TikTok is America’s boogeyman is up for debate. The bill has yet to be voted on and will likely receive extensive corrections in the US House of Representatives before it is afflicted onto the public. However, the strong bipartisan support should do more to stoke fear of overreach than disband fears of polarisation.
Edited by: Morgan Reitzel
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