A bipartisan group of senators introduced a sweeping bill on Tuesday that would allow the federal government to regulate and even ban foreign-produced technology, including TikTok.
The bill restricts the emergence of security threats that pose risks. The Information and Communications Technologies Act, or Sanctions Act, would give the secretary of commerce broad power to regulate technology produced by six countries that have adversarial relations with the US: China, Cuba. , Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.
The White House on Tuesday endorsed the RESTRICT Act, calling it “a systematic framework to address technology-based threats to the safety and security of Americans.”
While the bill doesn’t name TikTok by name, the senators who introduced it repeatedly touch on fears that TikTok, a social video app owned by Chinese company ByteDance that’s wildly popular in the US and around the world gives Beijing a steady stream of information about its users.
“It is widely acknowledged that TikTok is a threat to our national security,” said Sen. John Thune, R.D. said at a press conference. Thune, a member of the Republican leadership, and a senior member of the Commerce Committee are co-sponsoring the bill along with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va. The legislation has 10 co-sponsors, five from each party.
Thune said, “I am particularly concerned about TikTok’s connection to the Chinese Communist Party, which repeatedly spies on American citizens.”
Brooke Oberwetter, a spokeswoman for TikTok, said in an email that the Biden administration already has the power to oversee the app through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, known as CFIUS, and that A comprehensive ban would be counterproductive to US interests. ,
“We appreciate that some members of Congress are willing to explore options to address national security concerns that do not have the effect of censoring millions of Americans,” Oberwatter said. “The US ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and the values of the more than billions of people who use our service around the world.”
Oberwetter said TikTok had negotiated a settlement with CFIUS, which the Biden administration has been reviewing for six months.
But the implications of the bill go beyond TikTok. It is designed to protect the federal government from situations in which technology produced in any of the six authoritarian countries named in the bill becomes popular in the US. As was the case with Russian antivirus company Kaspersky, which is banned on federal computers, and Chinese telecommunications equipment makers Huawei and ZTE.
The bill does not clearly state how the ban will come into effect. Warner said at Tuesday’s news conference that it gives “the Secretary of Commerce a range of tools, including reducing, divesting and imposing sanctions,” that would harm the US
The tools apply to technology that could be used to interfere with elections, that is designed with deceptive intent or that might otherwise present a national security risk, the bill says.
The law comes under a broader US crackdown on Tiktok. The White House has instructed all federal employees to remove it from their work devices before the end of the month, after Congress banned the app on government devices late last year. Several state governments have already banned it on work devices, and some universities have blocked students from accessing the site over school Wi-Fi.
Like most phone apps, TikTok has access to and collection of substantial user data, which the company says helps improve their experience. The company has had to acknowledge at least one episode in which access to that data was misused. It admitted in December that some employees had snooped on reporters’ location data in an attempt to identify which of its employees were talking to the media.
Despite broad bipartisan support for some kind of crackdown on TikTok, some senators expressed reservations about a narrow approach that doesn’t comprehensively address data protection, including regulating data brokers operating in the US Who scrutinize the data of Americans and sell it. including foreign companies or entities.
The chair of the Senate Finance Committee said, “While it’s sensible to ban TikTok on government phones and government interests, if you do that, the big winners are these lousy private data brokers who will step in and take all that.” ” Ron Wyden, D-Ore. said in an interview on Tuesday.
The US needs a “comprehensive policy” that begins to close the gap, Wyden said.
Many privacy experts say that TikTok is a threat to the privacy of Americans, but this is not something unique in this case. Cyber spies from China routinely hack the data of Americans. There is no major data privacy law in the US, and an entire industry of data brokers buys, sells and trades Americans’ personal information.
Catriona Fitzgerald, deputy director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a think tank, said TikTok represents “maybe a 2% problem” when it comes to Americans’ privacy.
“Without the cover of privacy law in the US, there are millions of apps that are collecting and abusing Americans’ data,” she said.