ROD THOMSON: The wording on the 'TikTok Ban' bill is open to abuse

Setting aside the debate on whether the forced divestiture of TikTok is a violation of the First Amendment (doubtful) the bill itself should have raised a whole lot more red flags among conservatives and Republicans in the House. By 2024, even these cloistered folks in D.C. should be absolutely terrified at giving the federal government stacked full of America-hating mini-tyrants more broad powers.

But that appears to be exactly what the bill does. While in normal, dense legalese, it is a surprisingly short bill but with some startling definitions of terms that nonetheless managed to get overwhelming bi-partisan support. (First red flag should always be any bill that gets almost unanimous support for something short of Pearl Harbor.)

The pitch is to force the sale of TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, because of the dangerous national security implications of the CCP capturing and exploiting American data and using the algorithm to drive divisive, anti-American videos. The popularity of TikTok makes this app driving toxic poisons (although frankly, nothing you won’t find at every American university) even more imperative to target.

No argument on the dangers of TikTok, although it is only by degrees worse than Instagram, Facebook, Google and other leftist-capture tech companies. Its ownership in China greatly expands its risk.

But let’s look at the actual wording in the bill that passed the House and is now sitting in the Senate.

“Foreign adversary-controlled applications” is key here. Four countries right now are officially designated as foreign adversaries: Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. That’s straightforward enough. But here is the verbatim language defining what “controlled” means:

The term "controlled by a foreign adversary'' means, with respect to a covered company or other entity, that such company or other entity is --
       (A) a foreign person that is domiciled in, is headquartered in, has its principal place of business in, or is organized under the laws of a foreign adversary country;
       (B) an entity with respect to which a foreign person or combination of foreign persons described in subparagraph (A) directly or indirectly own at least a 20 percent stake; or
       (C) a person subject to the direction or control of a foreign person or entity described in subparagraph (A) or (B).

(B) is squishy in its own right. How exactly is 20 percent ownership “control”? Why pick 20 percent? Seems like 50 percent or more would be required for control, but not under this bill.

(C) should not require a lawyer to see a huge loophole that malicious actors in the federal government, and they are legion now, could drive a lawfare truck through.

What does “subject to the direction of” mean? That definition is not defined, meaning it is left up to the permanent state to decide. So people like Merrick Garland or Alvin Bragg or Jack Smith, maybe pushed by an Adam Schiff or Susan Rice or some other deep state power weasel will be defining what that means. Not a great feeling.

The entirety of the Democrat power structure in America seems convinced that Donald Trump is controlled or directed by Vladimir Putin. Trump owns the Truth Social social media app. How hard is it to see that Garland could open an investigation of Truth Social based on this language? Or to go after Rumble as Russian-influenced as it has already been accused of? The unforeseen consequences — by which I mean totally foreseen — are that this runs the very high risk of being yet another tool that a Democratic Justice Department and prosecutors could turn against American political opponents.

We’ve made this type of mistake before, under similar dynamics.

The Patriot Act was universally supported by both parties. It gave the federal government broad new powers against terrorism, which the government then turned inward on its own citizens. The same potential is built into this legislation. It is universally supported by both parties, gives the feds broad new powers against foreign adversaries, and may have the ability to be used against its own citizens. If it can be, it will be. Of that, there can surely be no doubt.

The thing is, a bill forcing the divestiture/banning of TikTok could be accomplished by keeping it so narrowly focused as to simply name TikTok. This one right here has to be sold. If the need comes up again, then another bill can be passed for another app. This would be narrowly targeted, transparent and removed from the dangerous hands of the permanent state.

There are two possible reasons it was not written that way: One, the authors want it to be applicable to more than TikTok; two, politicians did not want the blowback that would come from nearly 150 million American users of the app, so they made it broader, not aimed only at TikTok. Of course, that political calculation ended up making it much more dangerous for all Americans.

After witnessing the horrific abuses against President Trump during and after his presidency by the federal government, just the potential for giving the government more powers against Americans should be enough to terrify conservative, traditionalist, Republican Americans. And this bill’s language seems to invite those abuses.

Rod Thomson is a former daily newspaper reporter and columnist, Salem radio host and ABC TV commentator, and current Founder of The Thomson Group, a Florida-based political consulting firm. He has eight children and seven grandchildren and a rapacious hunger to fight for America for them. Follow him on Twitter at @Rod_Thomson. Email him at [email protected].

Image: Title: trump tik tok


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