Critics Raise Concern ‘RESTRICT’ Act Empowers Biden While Leaving Chinese ‘Spyware’ In Place

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The RESTRICT Bill — which is one of the bills currently being considered in the Senate and could ban TikTok — may give President Joe Biden “new authority”, but does nothing to stop the Chinese-based app. This warning was made by Republican lawmakers and digital rights activists.

The White House has supported the legislation and urged Congress to send the bill to Biden’s desk. It also praised the bipartisan efforts by Democratic Virginia Senator Mark Warner and Republican South Dakota Senator John Thune.

Politico reported that the endorsement was given shortly after SKDK, a Chinese-based PR firm, was hired by the app to assist with policy communications. According to the outlet, Anita Dunn, a senior White House adviser, and a founding partner of SKDK encouraged her allies to use the app prior to Biden’s State of the Union address.

Andrew Bates, spokesperson for the White House, told Politico that Dunn was not alone in his directions: “We work with outside supporters [to spread our message] on all major social media platforms including TikTok.”

TikTok is a key component of the Biden administration’s strategy to target younger voters. The White House invited TikTok influencers to help spread Biden’s agenda. His 2020 campaign was largely based on the app.

Unlike other current bills, the RESTRICT Act doesn’t mention “TikTok”. Instead, it establishes a framework for countering transactions between people in the U.S.A and “foreign enemies.” However, Congress can overrule the Commerce Department. The department can also apply “mitigation measures” against “information technology products or services” that “pose unduel or unacceptable risk.”

Critics say the bill’s language is too vague. It includes a provision that allows the secretary of commerce “prioritize assessment” of wireless local areas networks; mobile networks, satellite payloads, satellite operations and control; cables access points; wireline accessibility points; core networking system; long-, medium-, and backhaul networks; edge computer platforms.

Republican Missouri Senator Josh Hawley has proposed his own legislation specifically targeting TikTok. He criticized the bill’s inability to go after the Chinese-based app directly and instead giving “open-ended authority” to federal bureaucrats.

“We must act quickly to ban TikTok. Federal bureaucrats shouldn’t be given new, unrestricted authority. Hawley stated that we should specifically target this threat.

Fox News host Jesse Waters asked Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham if the “garbage bill” is a way to spy on American citizens.

Graham, despite his support for the bill, stated that he “doesn’t support” it and would “come back to Watters” once he had read the legislation.

Critics have also called the RESTRICT Act a “Patriot Act of the internet” due to its broad reach. They expressed concern that the bill would grant new broad powers to executive branches and could criminalize cryptocurrency transactions and VPNs. The bill was criticized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is a crypto advocacy group, and other advocates for digital rights.

EFF stated that the RESTRICT Act “would not do nearly enough” to protect our private data and contains “undefined mitigation steps coupled with a vague enforcement provision.” EFF argued for “consumer privacy legislation.”

This bill would give a lot of power to executive branches, which is a concern. This should be troubling in any context. Recent examples from around the globe, from Israel and China, show us the dangers that can arise from upsetting checks to favor executive power,” Riana Pefferkorn, research scholar at Stanford Internet Observatory, told VICE.

“We are concerned that an overbroad interpretation could be used to ban Americans using whole classes of technologies even though no foreign adversary actually has a real proprietary interest in the technology,” said the Coin Center, a cryptocurrency advocacy centre.

Warner addressed the concerns of private citizens, stating that the bill does not allow for any personal penalties, even for VPN users, and that it is directed at companies.

Warner and Thune also defend their legislation, claiming it doesn’t apply to private users and only to a small number of countries: China, Russia and Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea.

The bill directly appoints a secretary of commerce. However, the secretary can change who is on this list of “foreign enemies.”

Others Republican lawmakers pointed out that the RESTRICT Bill was a way for Biden not to act on TikTok.

Jim Banks, a Republican Indiana Representative, expressed doubt about the bill and called it a “half measure” since it doesn’t require it.

The RESTRICT Act will not stop Chinese Communist Party espionage. Congress must pass a bill banning TikTok to finish the job of the Trump administration. “The Biden administration endorses this half-measure in order to avoid taking on China or their Big Tech allies,” Banks said to the Caller.

Marco Rubio, Republican Florida Senator, argued that the bill “gives the illusion to action.”

Rubio stated that the White House is able to deal with TikTok. They don’t want anything to do with TikTok. This bill gives them the ability, through the use of the phrase “Congress passed something, it’s bipartisan,” to give the appearance of action but it’s not.

According to the Washington Examiner, TikTok has stated that it prefers the RESTRICT Bill over all other bills in Congress.

Michael Sobolik is an American Foreign Policy Institute Fellow in Indo-Pacific Studies. He said that leaving the decision to ban TikTok to Biden was “risky” as Democrats are likely to continue to ban the app.

“TikTok has launched an aggressive campaign to intimidate Democrats. They have hired a left-leaning PR company with former congressional staffers and administration personnel. Their threat to President Biden is that banning TikTok would be political suicide. Unfortunately, Gina Raimondo (the president’s Commerce Secretary) agrees. Over the last week, we’ve seen Congress’ progressives come to TikTok’s defense. It is risky to leave the final decision on TikTok’s fate up to the administration’s discretion. This could allow the president talk tough but act weak,” Sobolik explained to the Caller.

Thune argued that RESTRICT Act was a way to establish a “methodological approach” to foreign technologies that pose national security risks. CBS News reported that 22 senators supported the bill.

“Congress must stop adopting a fragmented approach to technology from hostile nations that could pose national security threats. This bill will establish a systematic approach to deal with foreign adversaries’ threats to technology platforms like TikTok. Thune stated that bipartisan legislation would be a necessary step in ensuring consumers’ data and the security of our communications technology infrastructure.

According to a Republican aide, the Daily Caller was told by RESTRICT Act’s drafting work that the bill is an attempt to codify the executive order (ICTS) issued by President Donald Trump in 2019.

The bill does not mention “TikTok” in its entirety because Trump’s 2020 outright bans on TikTok, WeChat and WeChat were blocked by federal courts. The Republican aide stated that legal experts raised serious concerns about the constitutionality and legality of an outright legislative ban. “Explicitly naming foreign companies in statute, rather than using a broader risk-based process, could expose U.S. businesses to retaliatory action by a variety of foreign countries looking to decrease the market share for U.S.-based firms such as India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Brazil.”

TikTok is also the subject of other bills in Congress. The “No TikTok on United States Devices Act” would direct Biden within 30 days to stop transactions with ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company. Hawley, who is the sponsor of “No TikTok On United States Devices Act”, asked Congress to “immediately pass” his legislation.

“TikTok allows the Chinese Communist Party to access the data of all Americans who have the app installed on their phones. This invasion of privacy must be stopped. China cannot spy on the most vulnerable. Hawley stated to the Caller that the Senate should immediately adopt my legislation to ban TikTok from American devices.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Colorado Rep. Ken Buck (House), also called for Congress to ban TikTok.

TikTok poses a serious threat to national security and privacy. TikTok is not only associated with the Chinese Communist Party but also used to spy on Americans, gaining alarming levels of access to their phones. Citizens who value their privacy and security should be concerned about this. Buck stated to the Caller that banning CCP-linked TikTok nationwide was the only way to end this malicious cybersecurity threat. “I am proud that I introduced this legislation with Sen. Josh Hawley in order to protect every American’s privacy and security from hostile foreign entities.”

Rubio argued in favor of his own legislation, the ANTI–SOCIAL CCP Act. This bill would prohibit and block all transactions by any social media company in or under the influence China, Russia and several other countries of concern.

Republican Texas Rep. Michael McCaul has introduced another bill, the DATA Act. This could ban TikTok.

McCaul’s DATA Act modifies Berman’s International Emergency Powers Act in order to make TikTok eligible to a ban. It removes the exemption from technology involving sensitive personal data.

“At the moment, the courts have challenged the authority of the administration to sanction TikTok. My bill gives the authority to the administration to ban TikTok and any software applications that could threaten U.S. security. McCaul stated to the Caller that TikTok was a security risk. Anyone with TikTok installed on their phone has provided the CCP access to their personal data. It’s like a spy balloon in your phone.