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Thune Discusses Bipartisan Effort to Tackle Foreign-Adversary Technology Threats Like TikTok

“We need a process to address those threats – a narrowly targeted way to mitigate the dangers of foreign-adversary-owned digital technology while protecting the rights and liberties of American citizens.”

April 19, 2023

Click here to watch the video.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, today spoke on the Senate floor about the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act, his bipartisan legislation that would establish a risk-based process to identify and mitigate foreign-adversary threats to American information and communications technology.

Thune recently penned an op-ed with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in the Wall Street Journal addressing the numerous false claims being spread about the RESTIRCT Act.

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):

“Mr. President, there’s been a lot of discussion lately here in Congress about the national security concerns posed by TikTok, whose parent company is Chinese-owned ByteDance.


“Chinese law requires social media and technology companies to provide information – including individually identifiable personal information – to the Chinese government when asked.


“This obviously has implications for Americans’ personal security and privacy.


“And it raises troubling questions about how the Chinese Communist Party could use TikTok for its own ends, whether that’s using personal data to develop sources for espionage or manipulating content to advance the Communist Party’s agenda.


“The director of the CIA, the FBI director, and the director of national intelligence have all outlined national security concerns with TikTok. 


“And members of Congress are currently discussing various ways of addressing these concerns.


“In March, Senator Mark Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I introduced bipartisan legislation – the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act, or the RESTRICT Act – to address the national security concerns posed not just by TikTok but by other technologies from foreign-adversary countries.


“And I am pleased that our bill – which is cosponsored by a full quarter of the U.S. Senate – has received a lot of attention in the media – attention that I hope will help ensure our legislation receives a full hearing in the Commerce Committee and a vote on the Senate floor. 


“But along with the attention our bill has received has come a lot of misrepresentation about the bill’s content.


“And I wanted to take a moment today to set the record straight on some misconceptions about the RESTRICT Act.


“First of all, many critics of the bill seem to be unaware of the fact that the bill is closely modeled after a 2019 executive order by President Trump, as well as a subsequent rule by the Trump Commerce Department.


“So I want to underscore that the RESTRICT Act seeks to codify a policy put in place by President Trump.


“Unlike some of the other TikTok bills out there, our bill is not exclusively focused on TikTok and would instead create a framework for reviewing not only TikTok but any technology from a foreign-adversary nation that poses an undue national security risk. 


“This has led to some claims that our bill is too broad or gives the federal government too much power.


“But nothing could be further from the truth.


“Our bill is in fact narrowly tailored.


“And it’s designed not to expand the federal government’s power but to update authorities the federal government already has to account for the digital age.


“Both Democrat and Republican administrations have taken executive action to counter the threat posed by technology from foreign-adversary countries.


“But they’ve been limited by the fact that current law was written before the age of the internet and is not always easily applied to digital threats.


“Our legislation, which, again, codifies an executive order issued by President Trump, as well as a subsequent rule by the Trump Commerce Department, would fill in the gaps in current law and ensure that it is possible to address not just traditional risks from foreign-owned companies but the specific threats posed by foreign-owned digital technology.


“I imagine some claims that our bill is too broad have arisen because our bill is not limited to TikTok.


“But there are reasons for that.


“First, there is reason to believe that legislation targeted solely at TikTok would be overturned by the courts because of the Constitution’s prohibition on bills of attainder.


“And second, our bill would provide a way to address more than just TikTok because this is not the first time technology from a hostile nation has posed a serious security concern – and it won’t be the last.


“Before there was TikTok, we had to engage in a protracted effort to remove technology from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from our telecommunications networks – after U.S. security officials raised concerns that much of Huawei’s and ZTE’s equipment was built with ‘backdoors’ giving the Chinese Communist Party access to global communications networks.


“And before Huawei and ZTE there was Russia’s Kaspersky, which threatened the security of government-owned digital devices.


“And that’s just looking backward in time.


“Looking forward, we’re also confronting risky platforms like WeChat, a Chinese app that has 19 million users in the United States. 


“By many accounts, WeChat is even worse than TikTok in terms of the Chinese Communist Party’s being able to steal data, censor information, and propagandize Americans.


“And no other bipartisan bill introduced in Congress does anything to address the risks posed by this platform – or other dangerous apps or technologies. 


“Only the RESTRICT Act contains the necessary authorities for the federal government to do something about not only TikTok but other technologies that present a potential national security risk. 


“Instead of trying to play catch-up and find a way to individually address each threat after it emerges, as has happened in the past, we need a process in place to provide for an orderly and transparent review of technologies from foreign-adversary countries.


“That’s what our bill would provide.


“Under our bill, the Department of Commerce – in both Republican and Democrat administrations – would  review any information and communications technology product from a foreign-adversary country that is deemed to present a potential security threat, with an emphasis on products used in critical telecommunications infrastructure or with serious national security implications.


“And the secretary of commerce would be required to develop a range of measures to mitigate the danger posed by these products, up to and including a ban on the product in question.


“Importantly, our bill would ensure transparency by requiring the commerce secretary to coordinate with the director of national intelligence to provide declassified information on why any measures against technology products from foreign-adversary countries were taken.


“I’ve mentioned that our bill is narrowly tailored.


“That’s true about the process created by this bill, which is designed not to expand government but to fill a hole in current law.


“And it’s true about the countries whose technology is targeted for review by this bill.


“The RESTRICT Act would provide for the review of technology from just six foreign-adversary countries – China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba.


“The secretary of commerce would be allowed to add countries to this list if it became necessary, but Congress would have the authority to reject any addition.


“And contrary to claims that the act would exclude judicial review, the RESTRICT Act specifically provides that any challenges to the act be considered at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.


“Mr. President, other charges that have been leveled against the RESTRICT Act are about the impact the bill would supposedly have on individual Americans.


“Opponents of the bill have suggested that the RESTRICT Act would somehow infringe on Americans’ First Amendment rights or target individual Americans.


“Again, nothing could be further from the truth.


“The RESTRICT Act would do NOTHING to restrict the content Americans can post online.


“Let me just repeat that, because this is very important.


“The RESTRICT Act would do NOTHING to restrict the content Americans can post online.


“If the RESTRICT Act becomes law, Americans will be free to post exactly the same online content that they are posting right now.


“Nothing in the bill would in any way censor what Americans can put on the internet.


“And the bill would not allow the federal government to surveil Americans’ online content or give the government authority to access any American’s personal communications device.


“Nor would the bill target individual Americans in any way.


“No individual user would be prosecuted for using something like a private VPN network to get around a potential ban on an entity like TikTok.


“This legislation would simply allow for the possibility of banning certain technologies from foreign-adversary countries that pose a threat to national security.


“And the only entities that would possibly be subject to prosecution under this legislation would be companies who deliberately violated a prohibition on technologies that had been determined to be dangerous enough to trigger a ban.


“Mr. President, the digital age has provided us with enormous benefits.


“But inevitably it has also come with its own unique risks and threats – not least the risk of a hostile foreign government exploiting communications technology for nefarious purposes.


“And those threats increase substantially when we’re talking about technology produced by companies in hostile nations and affiliated with hostile governments.


“We need a process to address those threats – a narrowly targeted way to mitigate the dangers of digital technologies from foreign-adversary countries while protecting the rights and liberties of American citizens.


“That’s exactly what the RESTRICT Act would provide.


“I’m proud of the legislation we’ve developed.


“And I look forward to working with colleagues of both parties to further improve this legislation and advance it in the Senate. 


“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”