We’re going to need some kind of wall-chart to keep track of the growing number of US legislative bills that could lead to a ban on TikTok.
December’s ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act and this month’s DATA Act have now been joined by the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act (RESTRICT Act for short).
The bipartisan bill was unveiled yesterday by a group of US Senators. It does not mention TikTok by name, but rather would give the US government new powers to take action (including bans) against foreign-owned, controlled or linked technology – hardware, software and services alike – deemed a national security risk.
The bill may not mention TikTok, but the two senators introducing it most certainly did. “Today, the threat that everyone is talking about is TikTok, and how it could enable surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party, or facilitate the spread of malign influence campaigns in the US,” said Senator Mark Warner.
“Our country needs a process in place to address these risks, which is why I’m pleased to work with Senator Warner to establish a holistic, methodical approach to address the threats posed by technology platforms – like TikTok – from foreign adversaries,” added Senator John Thune.
Warner did make clear that this isn’t just about TikTok, but about any tech company perceived as a potential risk: “Before TikTok, however, it was Huawei and ZTE, which threatened our nation’s telecommunications networks. And before that, it was Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, which threatened the security of government and corporate devices…”
Unlike the previous bills, this one has the backing of the Biden administration. “This bill presents a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans,” said the White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in a statement encouraging Congress to “act quickly to send it to the President’s desk”.
Could a TikTok ban really be imminent in the US? Not quite.
For all the noise in Washington from politicians who’d like that to happen, this is more of a hard backstop to the ongoing negotiations between TikTok and the US authorities. A settlement encompassing data processing and related policies that enables TikTok to continue operating there still seems more likely.
Still, the RESTRICT Act is the biggest threat yet that things could get more serious for TikTok in the US. One of multiple policy fronts the app is having to battle on. Music is another: British MP Damian Collins, a former tech minister, is making waves this morning by wading into the debate about TikTok’s music-restricting test in Australia.
The test is not happening in the UK, and there has been no suggestion yet that it will expand to the UK, but Collins nevertheless persuaded newspaper the Telegraph to print his view that “We cannot quietly stand by and let ByteDance and TikTok stifle our world-leading creative sector with their Chinese technological iron grip while enriching themselves from it at the same time”.
Chinese technological iron grip! This may seem like just verbal grandstanding from a politician, and the Telegraph also included TikTok’s response that “Speculation that the test is expanding to other markets is baseless”.
But as the US shows, when politicians are gunning for TikTok against a climate of increasing tensions with China, their threats may not be idle.
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