What’s happening: Congress and the Biden administration are united in their efforts to ban the Chinese app TikTok, but there’s still no legal mechanism for it. As a solution, Congress introduced the RESTRICT Act, which would enable the secretary of commerce to ban the app and others like it. The White House is “very in favor” of the bill, while legal groups are concerned it would grant the federal government too much power.
It’s not about TikTok: As a national security bill, it would allow the president to ban other platforms that might pose risks akin to TikTok, which the bill never outright names. It also gives the secretary of commerce, chosen by the president, sweeping power to investigate and prohibit foreign risks to federal elections, infrastructure, and the economy, among other broad categories. It’s vague enough to target individual citizens tied to “foreign adversaries” or any government the secretary deems a threat.
A Chinese firewall for America? The Chinese Communist Party has banned most U.S. social media in China to curb foreign influence and punishes dissidents that circumvent the restrictions with virtual private networks, or VPNs. Similarly, the U.S. has now mobilized to prohibit TikTok and punish citizens who bypass the ban, with a minimum 20-year sentence and a $250,000 fine under the RESTRICT Act.
Between the lines: Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) introduced a TikTok ban bill in January that would specifically ban TikTok rather than provide the federal government with vague, sweeping powers to address national security threats. The federal government has historically used foreign crises to extend its influence. (Speaking of which, the Senate is poised to vote on the repeal of Iraq war powers today, though it’s unlikely to pass with opposition from leaders like Mitch McConnell.)