The Biden administration is feeling the heat to prohibit the widely-used Chinese-owned social media app TikTok. However, experts believe that any attempt to ban the app is contingent on the enactment of new legislation that strengthens the government's ability to regulate speech.
There is growing concern among legislators and national security advocates that TikTok, owned by China's ByteDance, could engage in content censorship, manipulate users, and share Americans' personal information with Beijing, claims that the company disputes. Previous efforts by the Trump administration to ban the app were thwarted by courts, citing free speech protection violations.
A potential solution could be the bipartisan RESTRICT ACT, introduced by senators earlier this month, which would grant the Commerce Department the authority to ban foreign technology posing a national security threat. This would bypass speech protections present in current law, according to legal experts and China observers.
Emily Kilcrease, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, stated that the RESTRICT act offers "a much stronger, cleaner legal authority" without the complications present in other laws.
TikTok has denounced the RESTRICT act, arguing that the Biden administration already possesses the necessary authority to address national security concerns surrounding the app.
However, even if the RESTRICT act becomes law, it may not provide an immediate solution for those advocating for a TikTok ban. While the bill enjoys bipartisan support, no corresponding bill has been introduced in the House. Additionally, the timeline for Congress to consider the legislation remains uncertain, and it may face First Amendment challenges if used to ban TikTok.