2020 Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has branded the proposed Restrict Act a “Patriot Act 2.0 for the internet.”
The ex-Congresswoman, who served as U.S. representative for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district from 2013 to 2021, said on Twitter that the internet control bill “would give the government unfettered access to all the data on our computers, phones, security cameras, internet browsing history, payment applications and more.”
The Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act, to give its full title, has been hotly debated since being introduced last month. Touted as a means of preventing Chinese-owned video sharing service TikTok from doing business Stateside, it is currently making its way through Congress.
Gabbard goes on the offensive
Having defected from the Democrat party last October with the blast that it was “an elitist cabal of warmongers,” Gabbard has become a staunch critic of the Biden government. So her latest broadside is perhaps unsurprising.
Appearing on Fox News on Friday, Gabbard said both Republicans and Democrats introducing the legislation are trying to market it as something it is not. Thus, while it does effectively ban TikTok in the U.S. to protect consumers, it also “does a whole lot more.”
As MetaNews reported last week, and as Gabbard reiterated on Fox, the Restrict Act “basically criminalizes the use of VPNs, with some pretty serious consequences.”
The Restrict Act not only bans Americans from using TikTok, it is a Patriot Act 2.0 for the Internet. It would give the govt unfettered access to all the data on our computers, phones, security cameras, internet browsing history, payment applications and more. It throws the… pic.twitter.com/EdvvP1UgFr
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) April 9, 2023
Drawing parallels to the maligned Patriot Act, which was pushed through after 9/11 in the name of national security, Gabbard says “We as the American people need to be smart enough to not fall into this trap again… This is a very serious bill that threatens the very foundation of our democracy.”
The Patriot Act was at the center of the Snowden scandal, with the whistleblowers’ damning revelations motivating a reformation of the law which was repackaged as the USA Freedom Act in 2015.
In a 2021 piece for the Cato Institute, homeland security expert Patrick G. Eddington said the Act’s “greatest legacy is that it paved the way for so many additional laws, regulations and policies that have undermined constitutional freedoms to the point that America is no longer a functioning democratic republic.”
Not the only critic
Gabbard, who claims the Restrict Act “throws the Freedom of Information Act out the window and cannot be challenged in court,” is not the only one to criticize the legislation.
Digital rights experts and policy analysts aver that the Act contains “insanely broad” language and may lead to other apps or communications services with links to foreign entities being banned in the US.
The Republican House Financial Services Committee has claimed the Act would effectively make the U.S. Department of Commerce “a dictator over trade, sanctions, investment, cryptocurrency, and more.”
The RESTRICT Act is a bill that belongs in Beijing, not the U.S.
It would make @CommerceGov a dictator over trade, sanctions, investment, cryptocurrency, and more.
America can't outcompete China by becoming more like the CCP.https://t.co/gG5Tw1SXtW
— Financial Services GOP (@FinancialCmte) March 30, 2023
Under the terms of the Act, this department can effectively prohibit information and communications technology products allied to a “foreign adversary.”
Early conversations about the Act have centered on TikTok, or more specifically its Beijing-based owner ByteDance, which critics claim could be in the pocket of the Chinese government. However, proponents argue it will tackle companies operating in other adversary nations too, namely Cuba, North Korea, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela.
‘Information and communications technology products’ is a somewhat vague term, though desktop and mobile apps – including games and payment apps – are likely to come under the scope of the law.
Gabbard’s comments provoked a flurry of responses on Twitter. “Instead of banning the Chinese government from having too much influence over our people, our government just decided to step up their own censorship and propaganda,” said one user.
Another was stunned to learn that the so-called TikTok Ban Bill could punish users of virtual private networks. “Talk about a victimless crime.. using a VPN could get you 20 years and can’t fight it in court? This ain’t good people.”
Senators allege disinformation campaign
On the other side of the argument, the two U.S. senators who proposed the Act, John Thune and Mark Warner, penned an article for the Wall Street Journal claiming ByteDance was “spreading false claims about the Restrict Act in an effort to continue operating with impunity.”
Refuting claims of overreach, they argued the Act “crafts a holistic, rules-based process that is narrowly tailored to foreign-adversary companies.”
Other bills that might threaten freedom of expression and online liberties have emerged beyond the United States’ borders. In Canada, for instance, the proposed Bills C-11 and C-18 have been branded “censorship bills” by critics due to their ambiguous language.
The UK Online Safety Bill has also been the subject of complaints from privacy advocates who contend that it could lead to totalitarian internet censorship in the country.
Despite facing a potential Stateside TikTok ban, parent company ByteDance is in rude health: the firm had a highly profitable 2022, surpassing China’s tech giants Tencent and Alibaba for the first time.