A dangerous new bill called the RESTRICT Act (S.686) is gaining momentum in Congress, with support from  Democrats and Republicans, and even the White House. The bill claims to address valid privacy and security concerns with TikTok. But this is about so much more than just TikTok. RESTRICT gives Biden (and all future presidents!) extraordinary new powers to ban Americans from using entire apps simply by claiming they pose a “threat to national security,” outside of any democratic process. Politicians are pushing this bill to show how “tough on China,” they are, but instead of protecting us, they’re pushing for an Internet policed by the government––just like the Internet is in China. 

Sign the petition to tell Congress and President Biden: “Stop the RESTRICT Act and any other bill that restricts my First Amendment right to use the apps I choose. If you really care about security, pass a national data privacy law to protect users from exploitative big tech companies!”

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Shouldn’t we care about data security? And what about China?

Congressional support for the RESTRICT Act rests on the data privacy concerns that TikTok presents. It’s true: TikTok exploits our lack of data privacy protections and harvests an alarming amount of data from users. But if Congress really cares about our privacy, they should pass a national data privacy law. Targeting TikTok or letting the president ban apps based on changing political whims does nothing to protect our data. Lots of apps, from Instagram to the seemingly harmless fitness app you use on your morning run, exploit our digital selves and then buy and sell our data to the highest bidder. Congress claims that RESTRICT, and banning TikTok, will protect our data from China, but the sad state of data privacy in the US means the Chinese government could access this information from numerous tech companies, or simply purchase it from a data broker on the open market. Banning TikTok won’t prevent that. Only strong federal data privacy legislation can really address this, not infringing upon the free expression of millions of social media users. Congress should ban companies from spying on us rather than banning us from expressing ourselves.

Why should you care?

TikTok, and other social media apps, are used by marginalized people to provide political education, alert their community to current events, and organize their communities. In a time of rising political suppression, book banning, and censorship of resources for LGBTQ+ young people, the Internet and social media are a life-saving and vital well of information. We’ve seen how lawmakers try to bend the Internet to their will with censorship, suppression, and surveillance. The RESTRICT Act would make this even easier for them, in a time when we need community generated resources more than ever. 

Is the RESTRICT Act constitutional?

Nope. The ACLU explains the legislation “would violate our right to freedom of expression” and first amendment experts say the first amendment would be implicated if the president were to invoke RESTRICT to ban communications platforms. A coalition of 16 other civil liberties organizations have called on lawmakers to halt the proposed legislation banning TikTok and instead pass comprehensive privacy legislation to address concerns about national security. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to TikTok and voiced her concerns about this legislation, joining Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), who has been the most outspoken opponent of the bill, Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Cori Bush (D-MO). Even Republican Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has acknowledged that the RESTRICT Act violates the First Amendment and is urging his colleagues to oppose it.

Is the RESTRICT Act as scary as it seems?

This legislation is alarmingly vague, threatening jail time and massive fines for violating this proposed legislation. Some advocates have raised concerns that RESTRICT could criminalize use of VPNs, cryptocurrency, and a whole host of other digital resources for “national security” concerns as slim as having interaction with users or servers in China, or the six other countries named in the bill. While Congress distracts us with xenophobic rhetoric about China, lawmakers are opening the door for suppression of all kinds of digital tools and resources.

How can we stop it?

We need to act quickly. The RESTRICT Act is bipartisan, and it has a lot of momentum in Congress. But it hasn’t even had a hearing yet, and there isn’t a companion bill in the House yet.  We’ve defeated terrible Internet censorship bills in the past. If enough people speak up and pressure their lawmakers, we can make sure the RESTRICT Act never even comes up for a vote, by getting enough Senators and Representatives to come out against it. So sign the petition to contact your legislators. Share on social media and with your friends too: the more people who know about this, the better! 

Want to add your voice to the wave of people speaking up online? Make a video and we’ll add it to our petition. Send them our way! Email us at [email protected] or tag us on Instagram and TikTok @fightfortheftr.