White House backs Senate TikTok bill, urges Congress to pass it soon

US Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and other US senators unveiled legislation allowing the Joe Biden administration to “ban or prohibit” foreign technology products such as the Chinese-owned video app TikTok during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington in March. will allow. 7, 2023.

Bonnie Cash | reuters

The White House on Tuesday threw its support behind a new bipartisan Senate bill that would give the Biden administration the power to ban TikTok in the US.

The legislation would give the Commerce Department the authority to review deals, software updates or data transfers by information and communications technology in which a foreign adversary is interested. TikTok, which became a viral sensation in the US by allowing children to create and share short videos, is owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance.

Under the new proposal, if the commerce secretary determines that a transaction poses an “unreasonable or unacceptable risk” to US national security, it could be referred to the president for action, including forced divestment.

The bill was termed as the Restrict Act to restrict the emergence of security threats threatening information and communication technology.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, formally unveiled the legislation on Capitol Hill with a bipartisan group of Senate co-sponsors. The White House released a statement publicly supporting the bill while Warner was briefing reporters.

“This bill presents a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the safety and security of Americans,” said Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser. said in a statement, adding that it would give the government new tools to reduce national security risks in the tech sector.

Sullivan urged Congress to “take prompt action to send the bill to the President’s desk”.

“Crucially, it will strengthen our ability to address discrete risks posed by individual transactions, and systemic risk by certain classes of transactions involving countries of concern in sensitive technology sectors,” Sullivan said.

A TikTok spokesperson did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Tuesday.

Sullivan’s statement marked the first time a TikTok bill in Congress has received explicit support from the Biden administration, and it catapulted Warner’s bill to the top of a growing list of congressional proposals to ban TikTok.

As of Tuesday, Warner’s legislation did not yet have a companion version in the House. But Warner told CNBC that he already had “a lot of interest” from both Democrats and Republicans in the lower chamber.

Warner declined to say whether he and Republican co-sponsor Sen. John Thune, R.S.D. Who to look to for support in the House, but he added, “I’m very pleased with the interest we’ve got from some of our House colleagues.”

Earlier this month, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill that, if it becomes law, would force the president to impose sanctions on Chinese companies that potentially share Americans’ personal data with a foreign adversary. Can reveal in front.

But unlike Warner’s bill, the House legislation, known as the Data Act, has no Democratic co-sponsors, and it made its way out of committee along party lines, complicating its prospects in the Democratic-majority Senate. Done.

The senators who introduced the bill on Tuesday emphasized that unlike some other proposals, their legislation does not carve out individual companies. Instead, it aims to create a new framework and a legal process for identifying and mitigating specific threats.

“The Sanctions Act is much more than TikTok,” Warner told reporters. “It will give us that comprehensive view.”

The new Senate bill defines foreign adversaries as the governments of six countries: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba. It also says it will apply to information and communication technology services with at least 1 million US-based annual active users or that have sold at least 1 million units to US customers in the previous year.

It may reach far beyond TikTok, which in 2020 said it had 100 million monthly active users in the US

The company is under review by the Committee on Foreign Relations in the US stemming from ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly in 2017, which was the precursor to the popular video-sharing app.

But that process has stalled, leaving lawmakers and administration officials impatient to deal with what they see as a significant national security risk. TikTok has said that the approval of a new risk mitigation strategy by CFIUS is the best way forward.

“The Biden administration does not need additional authorization from Congress to address national security concerns about TikTok: It can approve a negotiated deal with CFIUS over two years,” TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwatter said in a statement. Is.” The bill text was released.

“The US ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values ​​to the billions of people who use our service around the world,” the company said. “We hope Congress will find solutions to their national security concerns that will not have the effect of censoring the voices of millions of Americans.”

Will Farrell, TikTok’s interim security officer, described in a speech Monday that the company plans to take a layered approach to mitigating the risk that the Chinese government could interfere with its operations in the US.

so-called Project Texas would involve Oracle hosting your data in the cloud with strict procedures on how that information can be accessed, and even sending vetted codes directly to mobile app stores where users find the service.

Farrell said that TikTok’s commitments would result in an “unprecedented amount of transparency” for such a technology company.

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