Days after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure that would ban TikTok and other apps with ties to the Chinese government, the other chamber of Congress has issued a response. A bipartisan group of Senators led by Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) has introduced the RESTRICT Act, which could become the first piece of anti-TikTok legislation to land on the President’s desk.
The House of Representatives bill, named the DATA Act, consummated years of anti-TikTok animus by promising to ban apps that send U.S. user data to China. By comparison, the RESTRICT Act (short for Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act) has a broader scope and a slightly lighter touch. If enacted, Warner and Thune’s bill would target apps affiliated with nations like Russia and North Korea in addition to China. Lawmakers would have the power to ban or prohibit those apps “when necessary.”
Warner led a press conference about the RESTRICT Act that streamed live on YouTube. “Instead of playing whack a mole…we need a more comprehensive approach to evaluating and mitigating these threats posed by these foreign technologies from these adversarial nations,” the Virginia senator said.
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Ultimately, TikTok will not be kicked out of the U.S. unless President Biden agrees with that course of action. Though Congressional leaders and state governors have pushed for a full-scale ban on the Bytedance-owned app, the Biden Administration has multiple options in play.
TikTok representatives are pushing the Whitle House to adopt a security deal that has been refined through arduous negotiations. “The swiftest and most thorough way to address national security concerns is for [the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] to adopt the proposed agreement that we worked with them on for nearly two years,” TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter told CNBC.
The bad news for TikTok is that the President seems to be fond of the RESTRICT Act. According to the New York Times, the Biden Administration has changed course, working with Congress to figure out how to regulate TikTok. White House officials reviewed a draft of the RESTRICT Act before its public introduction on March 7.
“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,” said White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in a statement. “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.”
If TikTok’s influence in the White House is drying up, it will need to find allies elsewhere. In Europe, it has initiated a charm offensive dubbed Project Clover. As continental leaders take action against TikTok, the app is insisting that its user data is secure.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will have a chance to plead his case when he appears before Congress later this month. It’s imperative for TikTok to find some power players who are partial to its cause, because its U.S. opponents are circling, and they’re getting closer to a wholesale ban than ever before.