TikTok ban update: The legislation explained

TikTok ban update: The legislation explained

Well, we’re back talking about a potential TikTok ban. Except now, we have multiple pieces of legislation to discuss. But, each of them faces significant hurdles to getting passed. And it’s possible, this will have to be a bipartisan effort if Congress wants to get it done.

As you probably know, TikTok has a massive target on its back. And Congress is going all out to enact a nationwide ban. Legislators–and the White House–are concerned about China’s involvement in the popular app and have called to curtail its presence in the United States. But, one piece of bi-partisan legislation has faced heavy criticism for extending government surveillance. And Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, stopped a Republican from moving his bill forward.


The Restrict Act

The Restrict Act, sponsored by Senator Mark Warner, has 25 co-sponsors from both sides of the political aisle. The White House endorsed the act which would give the Commerce Department more power. Specifically, the power to review deals and other aspects of communications technology that a foreign adversary has an interest in. If a transaction has an “undue or unacceptable risk” the president can take action on it. That action included forced divestment also known as…a nationwide ban.

If passed, this bill means Biden would have the power to force the United States to divest from TikTok. And potentially other technologies in the future too.

Interestingly enough, the word “TikTok” doesn’t actually ever appear in the Restrict Act. Instead the act is a broad measure that applies to all technology. And while legislators largely agree TikTok poses a problem, liberals and conservatives are both pushing back against the bill.

It’s been called the “patriot act on steroids” because of concerns about government surveillance. Critics also argue that Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) could fall under the bill’s regulations if someone uses a VPN to access a banned app. The bill’s criminal penalties include a fine of up to $1 million and imprisonment of up to 20 years.  

However, Senator Mark Warner’s communications director, Rachel Cohen, told Newsweek that those penalties only apply to people engaged in “sabotage or subversion” of U.S. communications’ technology that causes “catastrophic effects” on America’s infrastructure. It would not apply to individual users, according to Cohen.

The bill has many co-sponsors from both parties and legislators seemed gung-ho on pushing the bill through. But legislators have recently wavered on their support. It also hasn’t gotten a companion bill in the House, so it’s unclear whether legislators will be able to get this one passed.

What other TikTok bills are being pushed?

Numerous other bills trying to ban TikTok are also being pushed through Congress. Paul, who is staunchly opposed to a TikTok ban because of Free Speech issues, blocked Senator Josh Hawley from forcing a Senate vote on his bill. Hawley called TikTok “digital fentanyl” and he’s not the only one trying to enact a ban.

One of the other bills making headlines is the DATA Act. The DATA Act comes from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul would ban TikTok on all mobile devices in the U.S. The DATA Act would give the president the ability to ban TikTok using similar means that former President Donald Trump used while in office. It passed the committee, but every Democrat voted no, indicating that Republicans would need a unified front in the House to pass the bill.

The bottom line on TikTok bans

Regardless of which bill comes to the floor for a vote, leaders on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress are likely to have problems wrangling the members of their caucus. Congress doesn’t agree on the best way to handle TikTok, and there are concerns about the political implication of taking away an app that more than 130 million Americans use. All of this leaves the fate of any ban up in the air–for now.

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