Congress is considering four separate national security bills to address the use of the TikTok app on American devices. Many believe the TikTok app should be removed because TikTok and its parent company ByteDance are deeply linked with the Chinese Communist Party. Keeping the app on American devices would, therefore, pose a national security threat. Each of the four bills represents varying degrees of governmental intrusion. Senator Josh Hawley’s bill is the narrowest in the scope of the four.
UncoverDC wrote a detailed column on the most terrifying of the four bills on March 28. In summary, the “bi-partisan bill,” called the Restrict Act, would be a massive expansion of governmental surveillance, or as some have dubbed it, “The Patriot Act for the Internet.”
Given how out-of-control our government has proven itself to be in recent years, these bills could grant unforeseen powers to the federal government. As such, the codification of bans on certain apps or websites may open the door to unwanted governmental and executive branch intrusion in ways we cannot yet imagine. Abuses of the Patriot Act certainly show how our government can and will tread on the rights of ordinary Americans. Today’s column will address the other three bills being considered in Congress.
Josh Hawley’s Bill S. 85: Limits Ban to ByteDance and TikTok
Josh Hawley’s bill (R-MO), S. 85, or the “No TikTok on United States Devices Act,” is the simplest and most narrowly tailored of the four bills to address national security. Hawley’s bill seeks to “block and prohibit all transactions in all property and interests in property of a covered company.”
I had no idea there was a right to spy in the Constitution. But that’s what TikTok says! The arguments get more and more absurd. Ban it pic.twitter.com/sNR4k5lo6N
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 29, 2023
The “covered company” in this instance is narrowly defined as ByteDance and its “social networking service TikTok” and “any entity or successor service” owned by “ByteDance Limited or its successor entity.”
Hawley’s bill also calls for a report on the threats posed by TikTok no later than 120 days after his bill is enacted. The bill also calls for a classified briefing to Congress no later than 180 days after the enactment of the bill.
The problem with the RESTRICT Act is – it doesn’t ban TikTok. It gives the President a whole bunch of new authority and does nothing to stop the CCP. Just ban TikTok pic.twitter.com/iv8FNGFG84
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 30, 2023
Marco Rubio’s Bill: S. 347, the ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act
S.347 or “Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party Act” or the “ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act” is sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla) and seven other Senators. S.347 may be more expansive than Hawley’s bill because it seems to open the door to identifying other entities that may pose national security threats in the future. The bill opens with the following language:
“To protect Americans from the threat posed by certain foreign adversaries using current or potential future social media companies that those foreign adversaries control to surveil Americans, gather sensitive data about Americans, or spread influence campaigns, propaganda, and censorship.”
However, as it currently stands, the bill only lists ByteDance and TikTok as national security threats. S.347 authorizes the President to use emergency powers under IEEPA to block U.S.-based transactions of those companies.
MARCO RUBIO IS NOT AFTER TIK TOK. RUBIO IS AFTER OUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND AFTER OUR SOCIAL MEDIA. https://t.co/NmigZUWddJ
— Olivetti Lettera 🦄 📚☕🍫⚽ (@writerware) March 30, 2023
Senator Tom Cotton’s Bill: S.872, SAFETY on Social Media Act
Senator Tom Cotton’s bill, S.872, “SAFETY on Social Media Act,” is broader than Hawley’s but not as expansive as The Restrict Act. This bill seems to address the influence of TikTok on young people and is more specifically dubbed the “Stopping Attempts by Foreign Entities to Target Youths on Social Media Act of 2023.” The overarching purpose of Cotton’s bill seeks to address “the influence of certain foreign entities” by identifying which apps are connected to countries or entities “acting on behalf of” “covered nations” categorized as an identifiable threat. Cotton believes the app is a threat to America’s children because of some of the content on the app.
Sen. Tom Cotton: "We should ban TikTok today. And if you have TikTok on your phone, you should remove it. You should probably get a new phone." pic.twitter.com/VrewKfRZCC
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) March 27, 2023
A similarity between Cotton’s bill and The Restrict Act is the production and keeping of “lists of untrustworthy applications and social media entities (in this Act referred to as the “List”).” Like The Restrict Act, it allows the President, whose politics may or may not align with yours, to target not only social media entities but any “foreign person” who “owns or controls, is directly or indirectly owned or controlled by, or is under common ownership or control with a foreign entity of concern.”
The list would also concern “foreign entities of concern” who “alter the content” or “share data of United States persons with a foreign entity of concern” or maybe “compelled to alter” the content or share data of United States Persons with a foreign entity of concern.” The targeted apps or websites must have “in at least one month in the 12-month period preceding submission of the report, 1,000,000 active monthly users or 1,000,000 downloads.”
Cotton’s bill requires the listed apps to be removed from app stores. While not liable, Internet service providers must “ensure that the Internet service of the provider cannot but be used to access the website of any social media entity on the list.” The bill limits the actions and authority of the FCC to apps and websites on the list.
Employees of the listed entities will be permanently ineligible for entry visas until they have cleared three years of separation from the targeted threat entities or three years after the entity is removed from the list. The same visa ineligibility rules also apply to any foreign person who is “not a national of a covered nation” but is employed by those on the “list of untrustworthy applications and social media entities.” Once an employee ceases to be employed by untrustworthy apps and entities, said employee must still register for a two-year period “as an agent of a foreign principal” and will “be subject to the penalties.”
Do Americans Need Big Brother to Restrict Internet Activity?
All of these bills touch on constitutional issues that should be near and dear to the hearts of Americans. Missouri v. Biden has revealed collusion between the federal government and social media tech giants to systematically censor the speech of Americans. I, for one, am not a fan of weaponized governmental “lists.”
On March 30, D. John Sauer, Special Assistant Attorney General, Louisiana Department of Justice, testified in a hearing (timestamp 49:20) on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. Sauer alleges the federal government and its partners engaged in a “Censorship Enterprise…to obtain[ing], preserv[e], and expand[ing] political power.” This was mass surveillance by our government with the help of Big Tech, as Sauer states in an excerpt from his testimony pictured below:
National security is essential. However, these bills should be considered with utmost caution and respect. The question is whether Americans will be self-disciplined enough to restrict their use of apps that pose cultural and national security risks.