Key Vote NO on 21st Century Peace Through Strength Act H.R. 8038

April 18, 2024

Key Vote NO on 21st Century Peace through Strength Act H.R. 8038

On behalf of our activist community, I urge you to contact your representative and ask him or her to vote NO on the 21st Century Peace Through Strength Act, H.R. 8038. The 21st Century Peace Through Strength Act includes a modified text of the previously passed Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, H.R.7521, and would prohibit app stores from making applications available that are controlled by a foreign adversary. The bill is squarely aimed at ByteDance, which owns TikTok and other applications. 

Balancing the needs of national security with the unalienable right of freedom of speech and of association is a never-ending tango of two adversarial dancers. No one wants to lend the Chinese Communist Party any more data than the People’s Liberation Army has already stolen from U.S. firms and the U.S. Government. But we shouldn’t sacrifice our right to communicate freely where and how each person in the U.S. chooses to. This bill harkens back to John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Act and is simply updated to modern technology. Limited speech? Check. Limited Association? Check. Fear of foreign entities? Check. As was the case then, it is now that this piece of legislation, no matter how well-intentioned, is an affront to the First Amendment. 

Much of the rhetoric surrounding TikTok concerns the access to information that China “could” have if TikTok turns its data over. As Lawfare notes, Project Texas, which is overseen by Oracle, is designed to alleviate national security and user privacy concerns. The authors, both academics, write, “The debate about the risks posed by TikTok’s operations in the United States should be grounded in the realities of its current and planned operations, rather than in speculation about what those operations might be.”

Separately, concerns about user data ignore legal, pragmatic, and practical considerations. TikTok must comply with the Stored Communications Act and other laws and regulations. As far as the concerns about TikTok disclosing data to China, Paul Matzko of the Cato Institute writes that  “[China] would [have to] be willing to risk exposure and the implosion of a $200 billion company just to gain information they could otherwise buy from data brokers for pennies.” User data is readily available for purchase from third-party data brokers. One purchaser of third-party user data, by the way, is the federal government. Supporting actual data and data privacy protection legislation instead of relying on the nebulous fear of Red China would be a far better policy and approach. 

In recent years, attempts to outright ban TikTok have proved constitutionally problematic. For example, in November, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana held that a law enacted by the Montana State Legislature “ban[ned] TikTok outright and, in doing so, it limits constitutionally protected First Amendment speech.” The 21st Century Peace Through Strength Act attempts to get around the obvious First Amendment problems that an outright ban would have. We remain unconvinced that this new attempt will result in a different outcome. 

We understand that many Members are concerned about China and the Chinese Communist Party. There’s no question that China is an authoritarian country where individual rights don’t exist. China poses unique challenges to the United States and its allies. We share the concerns that those challenges present. However, we’re also concerned about the precedent that the 21st Century Peace Through Strength Act would set. It establishes a slippery slope. Do we rank countries from the UK to Iran in order of perceived threat with a nebulous and arbitrary threshold where private companies will need to divest from their corporate parents? Sure, China and Russia are threats to the United States, but setting up the conversation that Palau could be more of a threat to the United States than Bolivia only serves to entertain the absurd.

There’s also the effect that the 21st Century Peace Through Strength Act could have on small businesses in the United States that rely on social media applications, including TikTok, to promote their products to TikTok’s 170 million users. 

FreedomWorks will count the vote on the 21st Century Peace Through Strength Act, H.R. 8038, when calculating our Scorecard for 2024 and reserves the right to score and weigh any related votes. The scorecard is used to determine eligibility for the FreedomFighter Award, which recognizes Members of the House and Senate who consistently vote to support economic freedom and individual liberty.

Adam Brandon
President, FreedomWorks