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War on TikTok: Lawmakers introduce legislation to monitor technology

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In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia led introduction of the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act.

“I think we all know that over the past several years foreign technology products from adversarial nations, and when I say adversarial nations, I’m specifically citing China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, have really tried to establish a foothold in American markets,” Warner, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said.

The PRC has not hidden its intent to be at the top when it comes to technology. ByteDance, a Chinese-owned company, owns TikTok, a social media platform on which users post videos and photos.

“Today, everybody is talking about TikTok, and the ability of that platform to be used by the Communist Party both to take on data but also potentially as a malign influence and propaganda tool,” Warner said.

Before TikTok, Walway and ZTE presented threats. Congress is trying “to deal with the risk of insecure information and communication technologies (ICT),” Warner said.

Either software, hardware or social media platforms can present threats.

“These risks are not going away, and, unfortunately, our tools to date have been relatively limited,” Warner said.

The FCC banned China Mobile and China Telcom from offering telecommunication services, yet both could offer cloud computing services and business data services outside the United States because those services were beyond the FCC’s jurisdiction.

Warner introduced the RESTRICT Act as giving President Joe Biden new authorities to mitigate new threats by technology products from adversarial nations.

Warner is joined by 12 other senators in presenting the legislation.

According to Warner, the Trump Administration began an Executive Order process, which the Biden Administration has carried on “that got a lot of this right.” The Securing the Information and Communication Technology and Services Supply Chain did present some challenges. The RESTRICT Act seeks to present a new set of authorities and overcome the challenges.

Warner said the new legislation addresses existing apps and social media but also future apps and social media, including AI, ecommerce and Fintech. The legislation would give the Secretary of Commerce up to and including the authority to ban certain products if they pose a risk.

“It’s genuinely risk-based and it is a rule-bound process rather than the current ad hoc process,” Warner said. “It’s also intel-informed. We’ve made sure we’ve involved the FCC, the ODNI, the DOD, and, one of the things I think is particularly important, particularly when we try to make the case around Walway, we’ve gotta have our intelligence community be forward leaning at being willing to de-classify the information about why some of these foreign-based technologies pose a national security risk. So we’re not just asking the public to trust us.”

Warner said that 100 million Americans are on TikTok at an average of 90 minutes per day. “This is an issue.” Warner told members of the media at the press conference that he’s sure they would like to have 100 million Americans watching their programs for 90 minutes a day.

“We’ve got to take care of the national security-based concern,” he said. “The RESTRICT Act is more than about TikTok.”

Co-sponsor Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said “it is widely acknowledged that TikTok is a threat to our national security which is why Congress took steps last year to ban the platform on government devices.”

Thune said a “more systemic process” is necessary to act on national security threats posed by technology created by adversarial nations. He said he has been concerned about the collection of data on social media platforms, and especially about TikTok which “repeatedly spies on American citizens.”

“The Chinese Communist Party has proven over the last few years that it’s willing to lie about just about everything. That likely won’t end with TikTok, which is why it’s important to establish a holistic and methodical approach to challenges that are posed by technology from foreign adversaries,” Thune said.

If the CCP is willing to lie about sending spy balloons over the U.S. and the origins of a global pandemic, then they are willing to lie about using TikTok to spy on Americans.

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said that when several senators get together to announce legislation it signifies that “the Chinese Communist Party is not our dear friend.”

“We have to recognize that we face geopolitical adversaries that are serious and that threaten our security, our prosperity, and even the peace and the freedom that we enjoy,” Romney said.

The new legislation is designed to protect Americans, America and the U.S.’s friends. Americans do not want their federal government tracking their private lives and behavior, but allowing the CCP would be even worse.

“We’re very united, and it’s going to stay that way, because of the nature of the regime [in China],” Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.