Recent Op-Eds

Our Bill is the Best Way to Counter the TikTok Threat

By Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.)

April 7, 2023

The Wall Street Journal

We recently introduced bipartisan legislation in the Senate that has the best chance of mitigating TikTok’s clear national-security threat to the U.S. Where other bills have obvious constitutional problems and are likely to be struck down in the courts, the Restrict Act crafts a holistic, rules-based process that is narrowly tailored to foreign-adversary companies and is more likely to withstand judicial scrutiny.

In the few weeks since we introduced this bipartisan bill, and in the days following TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s testimony before a congressional committee, an intense, well-funded lobbying campaign from the Chinese company has misrepresented our bill in bad faith. 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.

So how did we get here, and why do we think the Restrict Act is the best solution to deal with foreign-adversary technology threats?

When President Trump tried to ban TikTok by executive order in 2020, his efforts were ultimately struck down in court. The courts ruled that Mr. Trump didn’t have the legal authority to use an executive order based on the International Emergency Economic Powers Act in the service of national security. That 1977 law was written before Congress could imagine the internet or the global digital landscape of the 21st century.

Americans might be surprised to learn that our bill gives the force of law to Mr. Trump’s initial executive order in 2019, which served as the basis for his effort to ban TikTok. 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.

This bill doesn’t target individual users of these platforms. It doesn’t target any individual user of a virtual private network. This bipartisan bill is focused on foreign companies that operate in six specific adversary nations (China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela). The Commerce secretary would have the ability to expand the list, but Congress would retain the authority to override any potential decision.

Perhaps the most blatant misrepresentation pushed by the TikTok lobby is that our bill targets individual domestic users, who could be thrown in jail for up to 20 years for accessing TikTok through a VPN. These criminal penalties are targeted at corporations and executives who conspire to evade a mitigation order or ban—not everyday Americans. Such penalties aren’t new—they are the same penalties already included in the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, Mr. Trump’s executive order banning TikTok and the penalties under the Export Control Reform Act—a law signed by President Trump and supported by 87 senators—as well as in other legislative efforts to ban TikTok.

We welcome the opportunity to improve or strengthen the Restrict Act. That is the purpose of regular order and the committee process. With matters of this magnitude, it’s important to get it right.

But we shouldn’t wait until there are 150 million users of a Chinese spy app before we take action. The four most-downloaded applications in the U.S. last month were all owned by Chinese corporations, and that trend will likely continue as these applications gain prominence. Our nation is behind the ball, and we continue to play Whac-A-Mole with serious national-security threats. Before TikTok, Congress took action against Huawei and ZTE, which threatened our nation’s telecommunications networks. Before that, it was Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, which threatened the security of government devices.

We are failing to meet the security challenges of yesterday, and we are falling behind the security threats of tomorrow.

Our nation needs the ability to combat foreign-adversary technology threats. That process isn’t in place, and codifying President Trump’s executive order—supported by President Biden—is a great place to start.