A group of U.S. senators unveiled new bipartisan legislation that would give the administration new powers when it comes to restricting or even banning foreign-based technologies. In particular, the bill could be used to ban TikTok in the U.S. if the administration considers that it causes national security threats.
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and Senator John Thune (R-SD) are leading the charge with support from 10 other senators. If the bill passes, the Department of Commerce will be able to “review, prevent, and mitigate” software, hardware or services that come from foreign adversaries.
The bill text names some of these adversarial nations — China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela. The maximum restriction would be a ban.
“Today, the threat that everyone is talking about is TikTok, and how it could enable surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party, or facilitate the spread of malign influence campaigns in the U.S. Before TikTok, however, it was Huawei and ZTE, which threatened our nation’s telecommunications networks. And before that, it was Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, which threatened the security of government and corporate devices,” Senator Warner said in a statement.
According to him, that’s why the U.S. needs a new systemic approach to foreign threats “so we aren’t playing Whac-A-Mole,” he said. While the new RESTRICT Act could potentially be used against a lot of different foreign companies, nearly all senators working on this bill mention TikTok as the main threat of the day.
TikTok is owned by a Chinese private company called ByteDance. Its growing popularity in the U.S. has also come with growing concerns about user data and foreign meddling.
White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan endorsed the bill. “This legislation would provide the U.S. government with new mechanisms to mitigate the national security risks posed by high-risk technology businesses operating in the United States,” he said.
“Critically, it would strengthen our ability to address discrete risks posed by individual transactions, and systemic risks posed by certain classes of transactions involving countries of concern in sensitive technology sectors,” he added.
This isn’t the first effort to pass a bill that would ban TikTok in the U.S. Last week, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted in favor of the DATA Act. But Democrats opposed this different bill.
As for TikTok, representatives have said several times that American user data can’t be accessed by the Chinese government. “A U.S. ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide,” Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson, told TechCrunch last week.
TikTok is already banned on government-issued devices in the U.S. Canada and the European Commission have also ordered staff to remove the social media app from their work phones.