Monday, June 5, 2023

The proposed TikTok Bill could ban much more than TikTok


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Story by Ethan Schmidt
Featured Photo by Jenene Grover

Critics of The RESTRICT Act, also known as the “Tiktok Ban,” think its broad language allows for massive violations of U.S. citizen’s civil liberties. 

On March 7, 2023, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner introduced The RESTRICT Act, which is meant to give the government the power to ban any app that could threaten national security. In this instance, the U.S. government is specifically focusing on Tiktok and the parent company ByteDance.

Ken Paulson is the director of the Free Speech Center at MTSU, and he currently writes about media and First Amendment issues. He worries about the effect the The RESTRICT Act will have on citizens’ rights.

“The U.S. government has an obligation to protect our nation from illegal foreign surveillance and cyber-crimes,” Paulson said. “It needs to do that in as careful and narrow a way as possible and not unduly interfere with Americans’ right to access information.” 

In a Reason article, Elizabeth Nolan Brown said that the bill “could be read to imply that ‘any person’ using a VPN to access an app controlled by a ‘foreign adversary’ or its alleged minions is subject to the [commerce] secretary’s ire. Hence anyone using a VPN to access TikTok would be in trouble—specifically, subject to up to $1 million in fines, 20 years in prison, or both.” 

Based on correspondence with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office, Brown also notes that they don’t intend to target individual users. However, the broad language of the bill would allow for it to be used in such a way. 

The RESTRICT Act doesn’t mention TikTok or social media. Instead, the bill states that it will allow for the Secretary of Commerce “to review and prohibit certain transactions between persons in the United States and foreign adversaries’ regarding information and communications technology.”

Caitlin Vogus—deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Free Expression Project—shares in a Motherboard article that “the RESTRICT Act could lead to apps and other ICT services with connections to certain foreign countries being banned in the United States. Any bill that would allow the US government to ban an online service that facilitates Americans’ speech raises serious First Amendment concerns.” 

“Those countries may still obtain data through other means, like by purchasing it from private data brokers,” Vogus said. “If Congress is serious about addressing risks to Americans’ privacy, it could accomplish far more by focusing its efforts on passing comprehensive privacy legislation like the American Data Privacy and Protection Act.”

Ethan Schmidt is a contributing writer for MTSU Sidelines.

To contact News Editor Kailee Shores and Assistant News Editor Alyssa Williams, email

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