A bill was introduced on Tuesday that could give the federal government the power to regulate and ban foreign-produced technology, including the wildly popular social video app, TikTok. The bipartisan group of senators sponsoring the bill, known as the RESTRICT Act, are concerned that TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, gives Beijing access to a constant stream of information about its users.
Although the bill doesn’t mention TikTok by name, Senator John Thune, R-N.D., stated that “it is widely acknowledged that TikTok’s a threat to our national security,” at a recent news conference. The Biden administration already has the power to oversee the app through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). TikTok spokeswoman, Brooke Oberwetter, warned that a ban would be counterproductive for U.S. interests, stating that “A U.S. ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide.”
The RESTRICT Act will allow the federal government to regulate tech produced by six countries that have adversarial relationships with the U.S.: China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela. The legislation will also enable the government to pre-empt situations in which technology produced in any of these six countries becomes popular in the U.S., such as the cases with Kaspersky, Huawei, and ZTE. The bill provides the Secretary of Commerce broad power to regulate technology that could interfere in elections, that is designed with deceptive intent, or that could otherwise present a national security risk.
The White House endorsed the RESTRICT Act, calling it “a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans.” The crackdown on TikTok has been widespread, with the White House instructing all federal employees to delete the app from their work devices, and some state governments and universities banning it.
Although there is broad bipartisan support for some sort of crackdown on TikTok, some senators have expressed reservations about a narrow approach that doesn’t address data security in a comprehensive way, including regulating the data brokers operating in the U.S. that scrape Americans’ data and sell it, including to foreign companies or entities. Privacy experts have stated that while TikTok is a threat to Americans’ privacy, it’s not unique in that regard, with China’s cyberspies routinely hacking Americans’ data. Without the coverings of privacy law in the U.S., there are millions of apps that are collecting and abusing Americans’ data.