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US senators defend push to give Biden new tools to ban TikTok

Two U.S. senators proposing to give the Biden administration new powers to ban Chinese-owned short video app TikTok on Thursday rejected criticism arguing it is the best way to address security concerns about a broad range of foreign-owned apps.

Senators Mark Warner, a Democrat and John Thune, a Republican, last month proposed the Restrict Act that would grant the Commerce Department new authority to review, block, and address a range of transactions involving foreign information and communications technology that pose national security risks.

“Our bill is designed to modernize the president’s international economic authorities for the digital era, put significant guardrails on presidential authority, give Congress the authority to overturn certain decisions made by the president, and establish a risk-based process to deal with foreign-adversary technology,” Warner and Thune said in a Wall Street Journal essay.

The White House and 26 senators support the Restrict Act that would apply to foreign technologies from China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. Critics say the bill is overbroad and hurts civil liberties of Americans including the more than 150 million U.S. TikTok users.

The Republican House Financial Services Committee tweeted last week that the Restrict Act would make the Commerce Department “a dictator over trade, sanctions, investment, cryptocurrency, and more.”

The senators denied targeting individual users or people using a virtual private network to access TikTok.

“An intense, well-funded lobbying campaign from the Chinese company has misrepresented our bill in bad faith,” they wrote. “It isn’t hard to figure out why: There’s money to be made by allowing TikTok to continue its current operations in the U.S. and not much to be made by protecting American citizens from national-security threats.”

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before Congress last month and faced tough questions about national security concerns over the ByteDance-owned app.

TikTok, which did not immediately comment Thursday, says it has spent more than $1.5 billion on rigorous data security efforts and rejects spying allegations.

Last week, Republican Senator Rand Paul blocked a bid to fast-track a separate bill to ban TikTok introduced by Senator Josh Hawley, who said the Restrict Act “doesn’t ban TikTok. It gives the president a whole bunch of new authority.”

The Biden administration has demanded TikTok’s Chinese owners divest their stakes or face a U.S. ban. Then President Donald Trump’s attempts in 2020 to ban TikTok were blocked by U.S. courts.

Democratic Representative Cori Bush said last week “Congress should pass comprehensive data privacy legislation, rather than target one company for industry-wide concerns.” Reuters

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