RESTRICTing TikTok: New Senate Bill Creates Process to Ban Risky Foreign Apps

March 9th, 2023 3:17 PM

A new proposed bill in the Senate would make it easier for the president to ban the pro-censorship, Chinese Communist government-tied app TikTok.

The Risk Information and Communications Technology Act, or RESTRICT Act, proposed by a bipartisan coalition in the Senate would empower the Secretary of Commerce to restrict or ban apps posing a national security risk, according to a press release published by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) who introduced the bill.

The bill did not name TikTok specifically but covered companies in China, Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Venezuela. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) co-sponsors the bill, along with ten other senators.

The bill would create a framework to access and then target risky foreign companies rather than explicitly targeting just TikTok, the press release explained. 

Warner made the target more explicit in a statement, mentioning TikTok among other companies.

“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,” the senator said. “We need a comprehensive, risk-based approach that proactively tackles sources of potentially dangerous technology before they gain a foothold in America, so we aren’t playing Whac-A-Mole and scrambling to catch up once they’re already ubiquitous.”

TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter claimed the RESTRICT Act is unnecessary in a statement to The Verge. “‘The Biden Administration does not need additional authority from Congress to address national security concerns about TikTok: it can approve the deal negotiated with CFIUS over two years that it has spent the last six months reviewing,’” Oberwetter said. The outlet noted that TikTok has been trying to negotiate with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) for three years.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee just passed a measure that could potentially restrict or ban TikTok access. The Deterring America's Technological Adversaries Act or DATA Act would grant the U.S. president the power to penalize or ban TikTok if it deliberately provided user data to "any foreign person" associated with the Chinese Communist Party.  

The new legislation appears to be a belated response to alleged past data security breaches. A whistleblower reportedly told Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) that employees of TikTok's parent ByteDance can easily access US TikTok user data. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) owns a board seat and financial stake in the Chinese parent company. 

The TikTok CEO is expected to testify at a Congressional hearing this month, according to The Verge. TikTok still insists it does not store U.S. user data in China, The Verge noted; but this ignores the fact Chinese employees can still access the data.

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