White House Endorses Sweeping TikTok, Foreign Tech Ban

March 8, 2023

The White House on Tuesday endorsed a Senate proposal that would allow the federal government to ban TikTok and other foreign-produced technology.

The bipartisan bill, called the “Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act” (RESTRICT Act), would give the Commerce Secretary broad power to regulate tech from several rival nations: China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.

In a statement, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the White House applauds the bill, adding that the legislation would empower the federal 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.”

The bill does not single out Chinese-owned video sharing app TikTok by name. However, the language within it touches on fears first expressed in November by FBI Director Chris Wray, who warned that the Chinese government could use TikTok to control data collection on millions of American users, or to control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations.

Since that November warning, Congress, the White House, and more than a dozen states have taken actions to ban TikTok on government devices—including proposed legislation from the House Foreign Affairs Committee that would ban TikTok nationwide on all devices.

The European Union and Canada have also recently banned TikTok on government devices.

At a Tuesday news conference, RESTRICT Act co-sponsor Sen. John Thune (R-ND) said, “It is widely acknowledged that TikTok’s a threat to our national security.”

In response, TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said in an email that the Biden Administration already has power to oversee its app through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). She asserted that a blanket ban would be counterproductive to U.S. interests. 

“A U.S. ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide,” Oberwetter stated.

The RESTRICT Act’s reach would go beyond banning TikTok; it would include tech from any of the six named countries. The U.S. has already banned—either nationwide or on government devices—such tech as Huawei and ZTE telecom from China, and the Kapersky antivirus tech from Russia.

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