Back in 2001, like many other people I foolishly bought into the idea of the USA Patriot Act. After all, we had just suffered the worst terrorist attack in history and we had to go after the bad guys, right? Of course, since that time we’ve seen the government and our own intelligence agencies spying on regular Americans more than any alleged ISIS sleeper cells. Now the government is brewing up a new plan supposedly in response to threats posed by China through back-door data breaches using the TikTok video app. It’s called the RESTRICT Act and it is unfortunately drawing bipartisan support in the Senate. But much like its predecessor, this bill would open the door to vastly expanded executive branch powers and unprecedented levels of control of both financial activity and people’s personal data. This week, Senator Rand Paul penned an op-ed for Townhall where he explains the plan in detail.
The RESTRICT Act eschews almost all notions of checks and balances by granting a vast amount of power to the Executive branch to intervene in all kinds of economic transactions. It would effectively allow the Secretary of Commerce to become the Commissar of Commerce.
The bill’s application is far from limited to Tiktok or other internet-based companies. The third section of the bill would enable the Secretary of Commerce to investigate any business that is in any way subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary to determine if its transactions “pose an undue or unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States.”
Though the bill already designates China, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba as foreign adversaries, the RESTRICT Act also empowers the Secretary of Commerce to unilaterally add any other country to this official enemies list.
If the RESTRICT Act is signed into law, the federal government would be empowered to censor “any conceivable online communication.” In addition to all of the new powers granted to the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of State would be able to ban undesirable commentary online simply by invoking the phrase “national security.” If you don’t care for how the war in Ukraine is going and write a blog post or create a tweet or a video about it, you could be declared to have “furthered a foreign adversary’s interest” and you could be blacklisted. In some cases, you could go to jail. For speaking.
Look around at how things have been going recently. We already know how diligently this administration worked to use the FBI to shut down dissenting voices on social media. This bill would simply cut out the middleman. Do you seriously want to hand that kind of power to the government?
If this goes into effect, you’re going to hear White House officials telling us how they are “protecting us from foreign disinformation in an election.” We know that Joe Biden has been hungry for this type of power because he already attempted to set up his own Ministry of Truth in Washington. Thankfully that effort failed, but they’re not giving up. As long as a small group of people gets to define what qualifies as misinformation or disinformation, there are absolutely no limits to what they can do, First Amendment rights be damned.
Stop and consider how these sweeping powers might be applied to swing an election in the direction of the ruling party. Before you scoff at the idea, I will simply remind you of the Twitter Files and the gymnastics that the FBI employed to bury legitimate content on social media platforms. Under these new rules, if the New York Post has another breakthrough story next year as they had with The Laptop from Hell, the government will be able to claim that the publication contains foreign disinformation that helps an adversarial state and simply remove it from the web entirely.
I’m glad to see Rand Paul taking the matter seriously and trying to put it on everyone’s radar. But there are already some Republicans who are getting behind the RESTRICT Act for reasons I can’t begin to imagine. They should be hearing from the rest of us in a loud voice. I don’t want to be in a position to say ‘We told you so‘ next year.
Read the full article here
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