As Congress prepares to vote on a nationwide TikTok ban next month, it looks like a ban may already be doomed to fail. The biggest hurdle likely won’t be mustering enough votes, but drafting a ban that doesn’t conflict with measures passed in the 1980s to protect the flow of ideas from hostile foreign nations during the Cold War.
These decades-old measures, known as the Berman amendments, were previously invoked by TikTok creators flute to block Donald Trump’s attempted TikTok ban in 2020. Now, a spokesperson for Representative Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), the incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Ars that these measures are believed to be the biggest obstacle for lawmakers keen on blocking the app from operating in the United States.
yesterday, tiktok-ban-faces-obscure-hurdle-the-berman-amendments-11674964611″>The Wall Street Journal reported that lawmakers’ dilemma in enacting a ban would be finding a way to block TikTok without “shutting down global exchanges of content—or inviting retaliation against US platforms and media.” Some lawmakers think that’s achievable by creating a narrow carve-out for TikTok in new legislation, but others, like McCaul, think a more permanent solution to protect national security interests long-term would require crafting more durable and thoughtful legislation that would allow for bans of TikTok and all apps beholden to hostile foreign countries.
The White House has not yet commented on how the Berman amendments have influenced its discussions with TikTok, which have been ongoing without resolution for the past two years.
What are the Berman amendments?
Back in 1977, Congress passed the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) to empower the president to impose sanctions on and oversee trade with hostile nations. The plan was to prevent average American citizens from assisting US enemies, but the law troubled publishers doing business with book authors and movie makers based in hostile nations. Those concerns led Congressman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) to propose an amendment in 1988, which passed, exempting “information and informational materials” from IEEPA and blocking presidents from regulating these materials.
As technology evolved, in 1994, another IEEPA amendment specifically exempted electronic media, leading to today, when everything from a tweet to a TikTok would be free from presidential regulation under the so-called Berman amendments. How this prevents Congress from passing a new law remains unclear, but the WSJ reports that lawmakers are hesitant to draft legislation limiting TikTok if that could threaten those protections.
At least one legal expert told the WSJ that it would be considered appropriate for Congress to consider the law in light of rapidly advancing technology since 1994. However, lawmakers told the WSJ that the Berman amendments remain exceedingly popular, defended by both parties as protecting critical free speech .
Berman, who now works for a law firm that helped block Trump’s TikTok ban, declined to comment to the WSJ on how the decades-old amendments might be impeding efforts by lawmakers concerned about national security interests today.
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