Warner stated during a press briefing revealing the legislation, “Presently, TikTok is a topic of conversation among many individuals.” “However, prior to the emergence of TikTok, there were Huawei and ZTE, and even before that, there existed Russia’s Kaspersky Lab.”
The Act RESTRICT Technology Communications and Information Risk that Threats Security of Emergence the Restricting The, which was unveiled on March 7 by Thune and Warner, gives the commerce secretary the power to take actions against technology companies based in certain countries determined to be foreign adversaries. These actions would include banning their services, products, communications, and information, as well as declassifying government documents that make the case for such an extreme step. The Act aims to address the arguments for a TikTok ban, which have been rooted in what has actually happened and not what could happen in the future.
The bill, which would give the Secretary of Commerce the authority to investigate, identify, and determine actions that should be taken against services and products that pose a national security threat, also addresses the problem of TikTok being used by hostile countries against US interests. While some lawmakers and detractors of TikTok have called for an outright ban, the bill does not currently have enough support from other lawmakers. However, it is still considered the most feasible legislative solution to the TikTok problem, especially since it comprehensively deals with the prospect of apps from hostile countries.
Warner expressed, “Our tools thus far have been comparatively restricted.” He mentioned, “We are deficient in a comprehensive, interagency, entirety-of-government strategy.” He stated that this legislation would accomplish exactly that. Additionally, it would empower the government to address forthcoming potential technological risks, like artificial intelligence.
ByteDance, the company responsible for TikTok, said that the employees who accessed a few US TikTok users’ location data were fired, and this surveillance was not authorized by the company. ByteDance has also been cited in the past for controversies over content censorship and is banned in China. While there is potential evidence for opponents of TikTok, there is no public evidence that TikTok and ByteDance have ever denied or spread misinformation or propaganda to US users or given US user data to ByteDance. Concerns about TikTok are related to the Chinese government’s ability to order ByteDance to give them access to TikTok’s US user data, as Chinese law allows for this.
CFIUS, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, has been assessing TikTok since August 2020 when former President Donald Trump issued an executive order. The order demanded that ByteDance sell TikTok to an American company or face a prohibition. Both sides have been striving to negotiate a deal that addresses concerns about national security and permits TikTok to keep operating in the nation. TikTok asserts that it had a preliminary agreement with CFIUS, which was almost finalized six months ago. Throughout the years, TikTok has implemented several precautions for trust and safety based on the provisions of the agreement. These precautions involve collaborating with Oracle to store TikTok’s US user data on servers situated in the US, granting Oracle and other third parties supervision over TikTok’s data, algorithm, and employees, and imposing stringent limitations on those who can access US user data.
In a declaration, TikTok representative Brooke Oberwetter expressed, “A prohibition of TikTok in the United States equates to prohibiting the dissemination of American traditions and principles to the vast number of individuals across the globe who utilize our platform.” The Biden administration has the capability to endorse the agreement that has been under scrutiny by CFIUS for the past six months, after two years of negotiations. It does not require further authorization from Congress to tackle apprehensions regarding national security pertaining to TikTok.
Warner appears to have become increasingly frustrated due to the absence of an agreement and the rising tensions with China. These tensions include China’s amicable association with Russia, its deployment of surveillance balloons above the United States, the prohibition of TikTok on federal and numerous state government-owned devices, and the mounting number of bills demanding a complete ban on TikTok. As the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner informed Vox in January that if the CFIUS review process continued to be delayed, Congress might be compelled to intervene. However, he also expressed his reluctance to implement a targeted ban.
Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Mitt Romney (R-UT) are partnering with Warner and Thune in endorsing the legislation. They emphasized the bipartisan backing for the bill and the necessity to take action beyond simply prohibiting one application from one corporation in the face of numerous technological risks, encompassing both software and hardware, originating from multiple companies and countries.
Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, along with Ben Ray Lujan, a Democrat from New Mexico, Mark Kelly, a Democrat from Arizona, Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, John Hickenlooper, a Democrat from Colorado, Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia, and Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, have all endorsed the bill since its introduction. Additionally, several more senators have also signed on.
The Chinese government’s approval is needed for ByteDance to sell TikTok, but reportedly, the Biden administration will never finalize the demand for ByteDance to sell TikTok.
Shortly after the introduction, Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, issued a statement indicating the White House’s support for the RESTRICT Act. In the statement, Sullivan also stated that the bill will help us address the threats we face today and prevent future risks from arising.
“We will continue to work with both Republicans and Democrats to quickly urge Congress to send the bill to the president’s desk,” Sullivan added, as we look forward to moving forward with this action.
Jamaal Bowman, a Democratic Representative from New York, expressed opposition to the anti-TikTok ban, stating that it would only harm free speech and that very few Democrats, with the exception of some, support it. Senator Paul Rand, a Republican from Kentucky, who has been against the ban, said that the Biden administration rescinded Trump’s efforts to ban TikTok, but its legality is yet to be tested. Despite all this, it is still unlikely that TikTok will actually be banned in the US, making this move unprecedented.
Throughout the proceedings, numerous legislators observed a significant bipartisan endeavor, which consisted of an extensive questioning session conducted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23, endured by TikTok CEO Shou Chew. However, it is possible that this situation might undergo some alterations.
In order to accomplish anything, it would relieve lawmakers of their responsibility. However, there is no indication that the companies would comply with these requests. These are not demands, but rather appeals, and both Apple and Google have been asked by Republican FCC commissioner Brendan Carr and Sen. Bennet to remove the app from their app stores, without relying on congressional action.
A couple of years or even months in the past, it was slightly closer than it appears to be at present. However, it is far from being implemented, this radical and probably unpopular action. If it is prohibited in the United States, it could also have a significant impact on the remainder of the internet. Although TikTok is prohibited in a few other nations (India, notably; it is also not accessible in China, which has its own version, known as Douyin), numerous TikTok users are of voting age. That would not be received well by them, to put it mildly. It would imply depriving over 150 million Americans who use it, as well as the numerous businesses that are resorting to the platform to promote their products and services, of a beloved platform. Ultimately, what it would truly accomplish may not be politics but rather the most significant hurdle of a prohibition.
And that could be satisfactory. While still keeping that as a possibility, it could be the ideal compromise that sufficient legislators are seeking to take some action regarding TikTok without needing to resort to a complete prohibition. However, the RESTRICT Act, despite being supported by members from both parties, may still face significant challenges, as numerous Republicans have stated that they will only settle for an absolute ban at this stage.