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For years, Republicans and Democrats alike have cried about the state of the internet in China. The Great Firewall that is the Chinese internet has been discussed ad nauseam with respect to the ways in which it hurts the Chinese people and their ability to know what their government is doing. However, it seemingly only took one phone app where kids dance, adults rant, and communities share trends to cause both sides of the aisle to throw the seemingly quaint idea that America is better, freer, and more open out with the bathwater.

In fact, over the years the idea of American superiority has not been just a talking point, but big tech companies have been called in to answer for the idea that they would bend their knee to China’s oppressive regime.

Now, in a hurried bill led by Republicans, Congress is attempting to rush through a plan that would effectively create our own internet firewall – maybe we should name it after one of the people championing it - Hawley’s Wall, Cruz’s Crossing, Greene’s Gate, Johnson’s Junk. However, whatever the name of this new idea, at the end of the day what any piece of legislation banning an app based on its owner’s country does is create censorship – and not censorship like we see at private tech companies that exists to protect a brand, but government mandated censorship.

At the end of the day, you don’t have to be someone who posts videos to Tik-Tok to oppose these bills, and you don’t even have to be someone who likes Tik-Tok, social media, or China. The idea of the First Amendment is that we have the right both to speak our minds and to listen to others. Shutting down a company because of its nationality constitutes censorship of our ability to hear media that isn’t necessarily controlled by the U.S.

What if Donald Trump had stolen the election and the only media available were that which are controlled by the U.S. government? What if Joe Biden decides that there is no way that Trump should take office before his court cases have concluded, and the only available media were that which is ostensibly controlled by his administration? The problems are clear, the xenophobia is clear, but the case for national defense is not there.

If there were a bill that prohibited TikTok from being installed on government issued phones, that would be understandable for national defense. Government employees could always install it on their personal phones, but any social media apps, regardless of where their owners live, probably shouldn’t be allowed on government phones.

If Congress is scared about data security regarding China, or any other foreign adversary, it should probably start by looking at securing its  own data. It wasn’t that long ago that a data breach leaked the records of our most secret personnel. And, there are reams and reams of data on people’s health that government works with that itself isn’t well controlled.

If I were a foreign dictator, I don’t think that my target would be getting teenagers to wiggle around on phone screens, but instead to undermine our defense sector and medical system. Neither of these areas have nearly the protection and security measures employed by even many startup firms today. 

Some people are scared of things that are different, like country music mixed with rap, Doritos Taco Bell Shells, or Taylor Swift at football games. But just because someone is scared about something doesn’t give Congress the right to shut it down. National Security isn’t an excuse to limit free speech. National Security should be a reason to find ways to expand free speech. Everyone understands that our nation is at a crossroads both domestically and abroad. Now is the time to open up to more things, allowing more information to flow instead of less.

Charles Sauer (@CharlesSauer ) is the president of the Market Institute. He has previously worked on Capitol Hill, for a governor, and for an academic think tank.

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