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White House endorses new bipartisan Senate bill giving Biden power to ban TikTok

President Joe Biden, TikTok
via White House, Solen Feyissa (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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    The White House has expressed its support for a new Senate bill that would grant the Biden administration power to ban TikTok nationwide, urging Congress to pass it “quickly.”

    The bipartisan legislation, authored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD), does not specifically target the Chinese social video app. Rather, it would allow the Commerce Department to identify, impose restrictions on or ultimately block foreign technologies that pose a national security threat.

    Aside from China, the RESTRICT Act — which stands for Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology — warns against technologies from Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.

    Warner, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement:

    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.

    Former President Donald Trump first sounded the alarm on TikTok and the national security risks it poses. 

    In an August 2020 executive order, he outlawed transactions between U.S. citizens and TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company, Bytedance, saying:

    TikTok automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.

    In June 2021, Biden revoked Trump’s order — among others focused on TikTok and WeChat — and replaced them with one that sets criteria for evaluating the risks posed by apps linked to “foreign adversaries.” 

    By the end of 2022, he approved the No TikTok on Government Devices Act — first introduced in 2020 by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) — effectively banning the download and/or use of the social video app on government-issued devices.

    The RESTRICT Act widens the scope of a potential TikTok ban to all U.S. citizens. 

    In a statement, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan welcomed the legislation and urged Congress to pass it “quickly.”

    This legislation would empower the United States government to prevent certain foreign governments from exploiting technology services operating in the United States in a way that poses risks to Americans’ sensitive data and our national security… 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.

    Other legislation targeting TikTok and similar apps are underway. 

    Just last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced a bill that would require penalties or a nationwide TikTok ban if an assessment confirms that U.S. user data has been “knowingly” transferred to “any foreign person” working for or under the influence of the Chinese government.

    In December 2022, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bill that would ban U.S. transactions by social media companies that are based in or under the “substantial influence” of U.S. adversaries. He said in a statement at the time:

    The federal government has yet to take a single meaningful action to protect American users from the threat of TikTok. There is no more time to waste on meaningless negotiations with a CCP-puppet company. It is time to ban Beijing-controlled TikTok for good.


     

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