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OPINION

Congress Must Not Restrict First Amendment Rights

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The First Amendment is the essential foundation for our nation’s greatness, guaranteeing Americans our precious freedoms that are denied in so many countries. Thus, it is disturbing to behold a bi-partisan group of politicians advocating a big government attempt to restrict the First Amendment, a disastrous piece of legislation called the RESTRICT ACT. 

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The goal of this legislation is to mitigate threats posed by technology, such as TikTok, developed in foreign countries. The bill gives vast new powers to the Secretary of Commerce to “probe and prohibit certain transactions between the United States and foreign adversaries concerning information and communications technology.”

Along with TikTok, it would affect apps such as Telegram, developed in Russia, or Amazon Web Services, hosted in China, among others. One of the major concerns addressed in the legislation is the ability of foreign adversaries to access the personal data of Americans. Those products or services with more than one million users would be subject to the legislative provisions. 

Unfortunately, in exchange for this “safety,” Americans would be unleashing a massive expansion of the federal government and another intrusion into our free speech rights. Information from American users would become more accessible to the federal government and private citizens could face grave consequences for using “banned” apps. 

The penalties would extend to $$250,000 for civil infractions and $1 million for criminal violations and a possible jail sentence of 20 years in prison. At a minimum, this act would limit choices for American users and stifle innovation in the technology industry. 

The Biden administration fully supports the legislation, which, according to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, would “empower the United States government,” which already has too much power. According to U.S. Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH), the legislation is “a PATRIOT ACT for the digital age.” The PATRIOT ACT was passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and enabled the federal government to expand its surveillance capabilities. These powers should be curtailed, not expanded by another misguided bill.  

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Not only is the RESTRICT ACT an attack on our First Amendment rights, but so is any attempt to ban Americans from using software, such as TikTok, according to Professor Eric Goldman of the Santa Clara University School of Law. He views the effort as “a flat-out invasion of our free speech rights,” “corrupt” and undermines “our moral authority by trying to invoke censorship.” 

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) shares the belief that a ban is counterproductive. On the Senate floor, he said, “I hope saner minds will reflect on which is more dangerous: videos of teenagers dancing, or the precedent of the US government banning speech.”

It would also be a tremendous blow to small businesses in Louisiana, which have faced some of their toughest challenges in recent years. From pandemic lockdowns to sky-high inflation to a worker shortage, small business owners have had to overcome plenty of hurdles to stay alive.

In the wake of these challenges, many small businesses turned to TikTok to help grow their customer base and increase sales. The last thing these small businesses need from Congress is a heavy-handed government ban that will negatively impact job creators who have come to rely on the platform. 

Supporters of the ban claim that it will address national security concerns and that TikTok could be used as a surveillance tool by the Chinese government. However, all data for U.S. users is stored on servers in our country. More importantly, these politicians fail to recognize that TikTok has become a critical resource and marketing tool for American small business owners and that banning an app used by 150 million Americans infringes on our freedoms. 

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In Louisiana, thousands of content creators, including small businesses, have come to rely on TikTok to grow their customer base. For many of these users, TikTok is their only income source. In addition, countless Louisiana artists, musicians, and filmmakers depend on the platform for promotion. 

Others use TikTok to generate income or kick start new business ideas. For rural business owners, the platform allows businesses to expand their customer base in a way that is not possible with traditional, more expensive marketing. There are countless examples, across the country and in Louisiana, of small businesses that would have been forced to close if not for the influx of new customers that TikTok drove to their websites and storefronts. 

The platform also promotes healthy competition using our free-market system that has created so much prosperity for our country. Using TikTok, small businesses and start-ups have the unique opportunity to advertise in the same arena as large corporations with vastly more marketing dollars.

It is also worth noting that banning a platform utilized and enjoyed by many Americans goes against our core freedoms and values. If politicians ban TikTok today, which app is next? A free and fair internet is critical to who we are, and prohibiting an app that promotes free speech goes against those principles. 

Louisiana small business owners have learned to innovate and succeed over the last few years. We should not let D.C. politicians take away our hard-fought victories or our freedoms. A TikTok ban is the wrong policy, and our elected officials, such as our Republican U.S. Senators John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy, should think about who it would hurt the most, our state’s small businesses. 

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The Trump administration tried to ban TikTok, but it was struck down by a U.S. District Judge who ruled it was “arbitrary and capricious.” While a more targeted ban on devices used by government officials, on the state or federal level, is legally defensible, a comprehensive prohibition for every American is a much different matter. It is an assault on free expression and free speech. 

If Congress wants to act, a much better approach would be legislation to protect consumer data privacy across all online platforms. This would prohibit technology companies from over-collecting or misusing the data of American consumers. This approach is targeted and makes more sense. 

Jeff Crouere is a native New Orleanian and his award-winning program, “Ringside Politics,” airs Saturdays from Noon until 1 p.m. CT nationally on Real America's Voice TV Network & AmericasVoice.News and weekdays from 7-11 a.m. CT on WGSO 990-AM & Wgso.com. He is a political columnist, the author of America's Last Chance and provides regular commentaries on the Jeff Crouere YouTube channel and on Crouere.net. For more information, email him at jcrouere@gmail.com

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