Senators Propose Bill Allowing Biden to Ban TikTok

Senators Propose Bill Allowing Biden to Ban TikTok
Photo by Solen Feyissa / Unsplash

The Lede: A group of U.S. senators introduced new bipartisan legislation that would allow President Biden to ban TikTok and other foreign-based technologies nationwide under causes of national security threats. The bill comes after several congressional proposals that question the future of the widely popular social media app.

What we Know:

  • Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner and South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune unveiled the RESTRICT Act on Tuesday, March 7.
  • It grants an entirely new authority to the Commerce Department to identify, and then reduce potential dangers linked to technology that is manufactured by firms affiliated with foreign opponents like China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela.
  • The bill doesn’t target TikTok specifically, but rather provides the U.S. government with a legal framework to tackle espionage threats that arise from technological advancements.
  • TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew will testify in front of Congress on March 23 over security concerns.

The Background: After Chinese corporation ByteDance obtained the U.S. app in 2017 and merged it with TikTok, the platform gained a stronghold in American markets, reaching over 100 million users. With the rise quickly came threats from the Trump administration to ban the app, driven by concerns about ByteDance's connections to the Chinese government and military, as well as criticism about the company's mishandling of minors' personal information. While Tiktok does not operate within China, ByteDance provides a separate, but similar application to its Chinese customers. FBI director Christopher Wray said in December that the Chinese government which has a 1% stake in one of ByteDance's domestic subsidiaries, can control TikTok’s recommendation algorithm. This enables the platform to potentially manipulate content and “use it for influence operations.” But TikTok says it runs independently and safeguards American data by partnering with Oracle.

Likely Outcomes:

  • Although there is a bipartisan agreement regarding TikTok's possible impact on national security, some Democrats are anxious that giving Biden the power to ban TikTok and other foreign-based technologies will damage U.S. allegiances worldwide, destroy jobs, and pose threats to American core values, including free speech.
  • After the bill passes through the Republican-controlled House, it would also have to pass through the Democratic-led Senate which might be a challenge considering the backlash both from Democrats and from civil society.

The Takeaway:

The RESTRICT Act highlights the challenges posed by emerging technologies, and the need to balance national security with the protection of democratic values. Considering some countries have already banned or restricted TikTok, including India and Canada, the U.S. Congress is likely to impose some kind of restriction as well, whether it’s the RESTRICT Act or its modified version or anything else. Since the proposed bill doesn’t single out the company or people, it has more chance of withstanding a legal challenge - so do its sponsors believe.


  • "TikTok is a national security threat ... It is time to act," Republican committee chair Michael McCaul.
  • “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,” Brooke Oberwetter, a spokesperson for TikTok.
  • “All of these things are in the hands of a government that doesn’t share our values and that has a mission that’s very much at odds with what’s in the best interests of the United States. That should concern us," FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Good Reads:

The political realities that make a national TikTok ban tricky (Axios)  

White House backs Senate bill to boost US ability to ban TikTok (Reuters)  

TikTok’s potential ban in U.S. could be boon for Meta and Snap (CNBC)