US Senators hope to provide the Commerce Department the ability to ban TikTok with a carefully worded bill that avoids targeting TikTok directly.
The new bill has bipartisan support and is lengthily named the "Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act. It would provide the Commerce Department, not the President, the power to restrict or ban foreign services deemed a national security threat.
According to statements from various congressional offices, the RESTRICT Act doesn't directly target TikTok, nor does it seek a Presidentially appointed ban. Instead, the bill would, if it becomes a law, create yet another federal framework for evaluating and punishing foreign companies that pose a risk to US security.
The RESTRICT Act was introduced on Tuesday in direct opposition to the House-led DATA Act, which wasn't well received due to it targeting a Presidential TikTok ban directly. The new bill was presented by Sen. Mark Warner, Sen. Jon Thune, and ten of their colleagues from both parties.
Senate members backing the bill include Democrats Tammy Baldwin, Joe Manchin, Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Martin Heinrich. Republicans include Deb Fischer, Jerry Moran, Dan Sullivan, Susan Collins, and Mitt Romney.
If passed, the RESTRICT Act would provide US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo the power to restrict or ban TikTok by compelling companies like Apple or Google to remove the app from their platforms. According to comments from Warner, the RESTRICT Act is easier to get behind because it doesn't directly target a Chinese app like TikTok — it focuses on a specific category of app.
"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," said Warner. "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 is a seemingly harmless entertainment app full of videos of dancing people and memes, but like other social media apps, it collects mountains of user data to feed an algorithm. The concern here is, since the app isn't US-based, the troves of data collected could be used against Americans, a problem expanded upon by Sen. Michael Bennet.
"We shouldn't let any company subject to the Chinese Communist Party's dictates collect data on a third of our population — and while TikTok is just the latest example, it won't be the last," Bennet said in a statement on Tuesday. "The federal government can't continue to address new foreign technology from adversarial nations in a one-off manner; we need a strategic, enduring mechanism to protect Americans and our national security."
Basically, the RESTRICT Act would give the Commerce Secretary the ability to identify, regulate, and mitigate possible national security concerns presented by apps or technologies owned by foreign entities that pose a threat to the United States. Ultimately, this could lead to a TikTok ban if ByteDance and its relationship to China are deemed a danger to national security.
A comment from TikTok stated that "A US ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide."
A ban has been discussed before
This isn't the first time TikTok has faced a ban in the United States. The Trump administration also sought to ban the app, but ultimately did not.
The reason the conversation about a ban continues is that TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, is a Chinese company. Over 100 million Americans share videos on the app, prompting concerns over potential national security risks.
The idea is that ByteDance will submit sensitive user data from users in the United States upon a Chinese government's request. The company attests that not only has such a request never occurred but that they wouldn't comply either.
TikTok data for US customers are also being stored on US-based servers owned by Oracle in an attempt to assuage concerns. However, such moves appear not to be enough.