Biden helped draft bipartisan bill that could ban TikTok nationwide
New bill, same ban —
A dozen senators support giving US Commerce secretary power to ban TikTok.
United States lawmakers seem to be exploring every possible path to potentially ban TikTok nationwide. The latest push comes today from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who this afternoon will lead a dozen senators in introducing a bipartisan bill that would grant US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo the power to ban TikTok on personal devices to protect national security, Reuters reported.
The bill is called the “Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act.” Unlike the “Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries (DATA) Act”—which Republicans who view President Joe Biden’s stance on China as weak have been jamming through Congress to quickly empower Biden to ban TikTok—Warner’s bill doesn’t single out TikTok to be banned. Critics have said singling out TikTok risks damaging US global alliances and driving more countries into China’s influence sphere, CNBC reported. Instead, Warner avoids making his bill all about TikTok. His office told Reuters that the RESTRICT Act will “comprehensively address the ongoing threat posed by technology from foreign adversaries,” citing TikTok as an example of tech that could be assessed as a threat.
According to Warner, who is introducing the bill with Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the RESTRICT Act is superior to the DATA Act because it provides a legal framework for the US to review all “foreign technology coming into America,” not just from China, but also from Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba. It’s designed to give the US “a systemic approach to make sure we can ban or prohibit” emerging technology threats “when necessary.”
Reuters reported that Democrats Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Michael Bennett (Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), and Martin Heinrich (NM) support Warner and Thune’s bill, as well as Republicans Deb Fischer (Neb.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine), and Mitt Romney (Utah). All senators are expected to attend a press conference today at 3 pm ET to discuss the bill in more detail.
Ars couldn’t immediately reach TikTok for comment. Warner’s office told Ars that more details will be shared at the press conference this afternoon. [Update: TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter told Ars that TikTok has not yet reviewed the bill to comment on it specifically. Oberwetter said that TikTok appreciates that “some members of Congress remain willing to explore options for addressing national security concerns that don’t have the effect of censoring millions of Americans. 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.”]
Biden’s support for the RESTRICT Act
Biden and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) have been in talks with TikTok for years, attempting to strike a deal allowing TikTok to continue operating in the US. Now it seems he’s either done talking with TikTok or seeking legal powers to apply more pressure on TikTok to finalize that deal.
The New York Times called the Biden administration’s seeming support of the RESTRICT Act a “strategy switch.” Although the White House has not yet endorsed Warner’s bill, sources told the Times that the Biden administration has provided feedback on a draft, seeing it as an alternative to implementing an outright ban on TikTok via the DATA Act.
TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter told the Times that the Biden administration didn’t need additional authority to strike a deal with TikTok. He still has the option to sign the deal between TikTok and the CFIUS, which Oberwetter said that TikTok considered finalized, “save for some legal terms that are not material to national security.”
In January, though, Warner told Axios that he was pretty sure that the CFIUS deal would never be finalized.
“I’ve tried to give the Biden administration time if they’ve got a technical solution,” Warner told Axios. “But candidly, in my view, I don’t think they’re going to come up with a solution because it’s really hard.”
Because courts rejected a prior TikTok ban attempted under the Trump administration that was similar to the ban that the DATA Act proposes, the RESTRICT Act seems to be agreeable to some members of both parties because it offers a new path to a TikTok ban that wouldn’t require Biden to overstep his presidential authority.
It’s still unclear what path the US will take, but pressure appears to be mounting for Biden to choose a lane and find a way to keep TikTok in the US or get behind efforts to ban it.
TikTok rejects national security concerns
On March 23, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a key opportunity to persuade lawmakers that their national security fears are unfounded.
In December, Oberwetter told Ars that efforts to ban TikTok are “politically motivated” and “will do nothing to advance the national security” of the US. TikTok has also criticized TikTok bans for taking “a piecemeal approach to national security and a piecemeal approach to broad industry issues like data security, privacy, and online harms.”
Some of Warner’s statements suggest that the RESTRICT Act possibly addresses that latter criticism, telling Axios that the optics were better if the US passed a law like his bill because “it’d be better to say we are concerned about this category of applications rather than a specific single app.” Warner said he couldn’t back efforts like the DATA Act because singling out China-based TikTok could stoke retaliation from China.
TikTok isn’t the only one opposing some of Congress’ efforts to ban the app. The American Civil Liberties Union has warned that banning TikTok on personal devices would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights, calling the DATA Act unconstitutional and urging lawmakers to vote it down. An ACLU spokesperson told Ars that the organization is waiting to review Warner’s bill before deciding whether the RESTRICT Act could also be considered unconstitutional.