Analysis: Restrict Act is government surveillance disguised as a ban on TikTok

by WorldTribune Staff, March 30, 2023

Wikipeda describes the Restrict Act (S. 686) as “proposed legislation that was first introduced in the United States Senate on March 7, 2023. To authorize the Secretary of Commerce to review and prohibit certain transactions between persons in the United States and foreign adversaries, and for other purposes.”

The “for other purposes” being the key caveat.

Virginia Democrat Sen. Mark Warner introduces the Restrict Act. / Video Image

Referred to as the TikTok bill because of discussion over banning the app because of its ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the bill “has very little to do with the Chinese-controlled app,” Wendi Strauch Mahoney wrote in a March 28 analysis for UncoverDC.

“If you yearn for more terrifying government intrusion into your life, then the ‘Restrict Act’ is the bill for you,” Mahoney wrote. “In truth, this bill, sponsored by Senators Mark Warner and John Thune, would fundamentally alter freedoms related to the ways Americans use the Internet — with intrusive consequences similar to the abuses seen after the introduction of the Patriot Act.

One early clue that the Restrict Act is more “dangerous government overreach,” Mahoney noted, was the endorsement by current national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Sullivan had said in a March 7 statement touting the bill: “This legislation would empower the United States government to prevent certain foreign governments from exploiting technology services operating in the United States in a way that poses risks to Americans’ sensitive data and our national security.

“The information and communications technology products and services supply chain is integral to the lives of Americans and the functioning of U.S. businesses. This bill presents a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans.”

Mahoney noted that Sullivan “applauds the idea that Americans cannot make good decisions regarding their Internet choices related to all devices, virtual (VPNs) or otherwise, in their homes. Also, the Secretary of Commerce, who the President appoints, will be in charge of the ‘systematic framework’ to track your devices and ‘certain transactions’ and then penalize those who step out of line. All in the name of national security risks.”

Under the Restrict Act, the Commerce Secretary has control over the list of foreign adversaries and does not have to notify Congress when he or she changes the list. The bill allows a 15-day delay in notifying the president of those on the list. The Commerce Secretary may also create, keep, and revise “lists of foreign persons.”

As Mahoney noted: “Anyone who poses a threat to critical infrastructure (like elections) can be deemed an adversary because of how critical infrastructure was defined in section 1016(e) of the Patriot Act. If your name is on that list, due process seems to go out the window.”

This Restrict Act authorizes the Commerce Secretary and “relevant executive department and agency heads” to fully control “any risk arising from” your devices or your activity on the Internet in your own home.

What kinds of virtual and otherwise devices are fair game?

“Any and all,” Mahoney wrote. “The list is comprehensive. It includes e-commerce sites, payment technologies, online marketplaces, biotechnology, synthetic biology, post-quantum cryptology, quantum key distribution (security keys used to encrypt and decrypt messages), and more.”

The Commerce Secretary would have unlimited funds to enforce the Restrict Act and would also have the authority to hire additional law enforcement to enforce action. Information submitted for “a covered transaction” (investigation) is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Penalties for things the government doesn’t want you to do can be between $250,000 or up to $1,000,000 and imprisonment “for not more than 20 years or both.”

Mahoney concluded: “This bill seems to be another Trojan horse meant to usher in more government surveillance of Americans. If TikTok is genuinely a national security threat, perhaps a more focused ban on TikTok is in order, or maybe Americans should make better choices without the government intervening.”

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