White House Supports New Bill That Could Lead to TikTok Ban in US
The RESTRICT Act would empower the Department of Commerce to rein in technologies that are found to threaten U.S. national security.
In the latest bid by lawmakers to crack down on TikTok in the United States, on Tuesday (Mar. 7) a bipartisan group of senators introduced a new bill that would empower the White House to rein in the Chinese-owned video-sharing app.
Led by Sens. Mark A. Warner (D-Va.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) and co-sponsored by 10 others in the chamber, the RESTRICT Act would “comprehensively address the ongoing threat posed by technology from foreign adversaries” including China, Russia and Iran by authorizing the Department of Commerce — led by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — “to review, prevent, and mitigate information communications and technology transactions” that are found to threaten U.S. national security, up to and including an outright ban, according to a press release.
The White House has also come out in support of the new bill, with U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan noting in a press release that the legislation “presents a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans.”
Though TikTok is not named in the text of the RESTRICT Act, both Warner and Thune invoked the platform in their own statements on the legislation.
“Congress needs to stop taking a piecemeal approach when it comes to technology from adversarial nations that pose national security risks,” said Thune. “Our country needs a process in place to address these risks, which is why I’m pleased to work with Senator Warner to establish a holistic, methodical approach to address the threats posed by technology platforms — like TikTok — from foreign adversaries.”
A representative for TikTok did not immediately respond to Billboard‘s request for comment.
TikTok has been subject to increased scrutiny by the U.S. government recently over fears that national security and consumer privacy could be compromised by the platform, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. In December, President Joe Biden signed a bill that prohibits the use of the platform by nearly 4 million government employees on devices owned by its agencies, joining at least 27 state governments and several universities that have passed similar measures. And last month, the administration drew a sharp rebuke from the Chinese government after it gave all federal agencies just 30 days to wipe TikTok from government devices.
Tuesday’s Senate bill follows a separate one introduced in December by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) that would have required President Biden to use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) to restrict U.S. citizens’ access to the app.
In the House on Wednesday (Mar. 1), another bill advanced out of committee that would direct the Treasury Secretary to prohibit Americans from engaging with TikTok and other entities found to be directed or influenced by the Chinese government — though it was criticized by Democrats who said it had not been properly vetted and could affect innocent U.S. businesses. That legislation would additionally empower the President to impose sanctions on TikTok and other companies tied to China.
TikTok has long attempted to assuage fears that the platform, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has ties to the ruling Chinese Communist party and censors content critical of the Chinese government and other authoritarian regimes. In June, the company announced it had started routing U.S. user data to Oracle cloud servers located in the U.S., instituted audits of its algorithms and established a new department to solely manage U.S. user data for the platform.
The U.S. government has so far been undeterred. “We look forward to continue working with both Democrats and Republicans on this bill, and urge Congress to act quickly to send it to the President’s desk,” said Sullivan on Tuesday.
Concerns about TikTok have also been prevalent in other corners of the West, most prominently in Europe. In January, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew met with European Union officials over concerns about child safety and data privacy, among other matters. On Feb. 16, TikTok’s general manager of operations in Europe, Rich Waterworth, attempted to allay some of those concerns in a blog post where he noted that the company plans to establish two additional European data centers, citing a commitment “to keeping our European community and their data safe and secure.” He added that the company is “continuing to deliver against” a data governance strategy they set out for Europe last year, which includes plans to further reduce employee access to European data, minimize data flows outside Europe and store European user data locally.
Zi Chew is slated to appear before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on March 23, when he’s expected to comment on TikTok’s data security and user privacy policies, the app’s impact on children and ties with the Chinese Communist Party.