Mar 8, 2023
Bipartisan Group Of Senators Unveil Bill To Allow President Authority To Respond To Threat Of TikTok Transcript
At a press briefing on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled the RESTRICT Act. Read the transcript here.
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Sen. Mark Warner (00:00):
Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela have really tried to establish a foothold in American markets. The PRC, for example, has not tried to hide its intent to surpass and win in many technology domains. Today everybody’s talking about TikTok and the ability of that platform to be used by the Communist party, both to take on data, but also potentially as a malign influence and propaganda tool. But before there was TikTok, there was Huawei and ZTE, and before that there was Russia’s Kaspersky Labs. So what we are trying to deal with here is the risks of insecure information and communication technologies, ICT, and whether that comes in the form of software where oftentimes that software can provide backdoors into sensitive American intelligence and technology means. Hardware, the Walway equipment that interestingly enough, was oftentimes sold into those rural markets where we had some of our national defense establishment, or social media platforms where we’ve seen abilities to both collect data and present malign influence operations.
Now, these risks are not going away, and unfortunately, our tools to date have been relatively limited. For example, even though the FCC ultimately was able to ban China Mobile and China Telecom from offering telecommunication services, they still, because it was outside the FCC’s jurisdiction, could still offer cloud computing and business data services in the United States. We lack at this moment in time a holistic interagency whole of government approach. So instead of playing whack-a-mole on Huawei one day, ZTE the next, Kaspersky, TikTok, we need a more comprehensive approach to evaluating and mitigating these threats posed by these foreign technologies from these adversarial nations.
With that in mind, I’m proud to stand here with some of our co-sponsors on the Restrict Act, which will give the President and more specifically the Secretary of Commerce, new authorities to mitigate the threats posed by technology products from adversarial nations.
In a moment, I’m going to turn the podium over to John Thune, who’s my lead co-sponsor on this, the Republican Whip, former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and a real leader on issues of technology and national security, and we’ve been joined by a number of the co-sponsors. Senator Romney, Senator Moran, Senator Bennett, Senator Baldwin, [inaudible 00:02:39] retiring, Joe Manchin, and in addition we have Senators Sullivan, Collins and Heinrich also. So we’ve got 12 senators at this point as initial co-sponsors, and I can assure you we sparked a lot of interest from other senators as well as a number of our friends in the house on both the Republican and Democratic side. We’ve been working the last few months to try to create that overarching framework to evaluate foreign technology threats on that more comprehensive basis.
Now, in going and doing our due diligence and talking to outside experts and legal scholars, what we heard was actually the Trump administration actually established a process that got a lot of this right, and the Biden administration has supported that same EO that he put forward a number of years back.
The EO established this process was called the Securing the Information and Communication Technology and Services Supply Chain. It was implemented by the ICTS rule. Now, there were some challenges around that. So our bill would codify that strong risk-based process, but it would also say we are going to create a new set of authorities that limited the ICTS application, frankly the 70s era law IEEPA and the Berman Amendments that have modified that, that unfortunately the Trump and Biden administration have had to rely on up to this point. And what our new set of rules do is not only takes on existing hardware, software, and mobile apps, but we’ve said we need to make sure that we are extensive enough to look forward, so that we’re going to include AI products and services, fintech, quantum communications, and e-commerce, all areas that were not covered earlier.
The Strict Act would give the Secretary of Commerce the authority and the responsibility to identify and counter threats from foreign technology products and services in the US. A series of mitigation tools given to the secretary up to and including the opportunity demand. It’s genuinely risk-based and it is a rule bound process rather than the current ad hoc process. It’s also Intel informed. We’ve made sure we’ve involved the FCC, the ODNI, DOD. And one of the things that I think is particularly important, particularly as we try to make the case around when we tried to make the case around Walway, we’ve got to have our intelligence community be forward-leaning at being willing to declassify the information about why some of these technologies, foreign-based technologies, pose national security risks. So we’re not just asking the public to trust us. Consequently, in developing this legislation, we have worked with the Commerce Department, the Justice Department, ODNI, Treasury, National Security Council, and I think you’ll shortly be seeing a statement from the White House.
Truth is, with a hundred million Americans daily on TikTok, on an average of 90 minutes a day, this is an issue. I imagine most of you would like your networks to get 90 minutes a day from a hundred million Americans. We’ve got to make sure that we take care of that national security base concern. The Restrict Act is more than about TikTok, it will give us that comprehensive approach. As I turn over to Senator Thune, and then we’re going to ask our colleagues in the order that are on the sheet here. When we get to the question period, we’re going to be pretty ruthless about making sure we stick to this topic. We’ve got other topics we can come back to afterwards. With that, let me turn it over to my co-sponsor and lead, Senator John Thune. John.
Sen. John Thune (06:11):
Thanks Mark. Well I’m grateful for the opportunity to work on this legislation and to partner with Senator Warner, a number of our colleagues as he said, our teams staff have worked closely together over the past several weeks refining this legislation. It is widely acknowledged that TikTok’s a threat to our national security, which is why Congress took steps last year to ban the platform on government devices. And before TikTok, as Mark pointed out, Congress had to take steps to remove Huawei, ZTE, and ZTE from our telecommunications networks. In my view, we do need an approach that does away with this whack-a-mole, with this particular technology and with adversarial nations, and come up with a more systemic process in which to examine these risks and to act on them. I’ve long been concerned about how every social media company uses the data it collects from users, and I’ve introduced a number of bipartisan pieces of legislation to bring more transparency to big tech. But I’m particularly concerned about TikTok’s connections to the Chinese Communist Party, which repeatedly, repeatedly spies on American citizens.
It was reported last year that China-based employees by dance have repeatedly accessed non-public data about users in the US, despite TikTok saying to the contrary. And as Senator Warner pointed out, both the Trump and the Biden administrations recognize the need for a robust process in place to evaluate the threats that are posed by foreign technology. This legislation builds on those efforts by establishing a comprehensive process within the Department of Commerce to mitigate and which ultimately could lead, I would add, to banning platforms like TikTok. The Chinese Communist Party has proven over the last few years that it’s willing to lie about just about everything. And that likely won’t end with TikTok, which is why it’s important to establish a holistic and methodical approach to the challenges that are opposed by technology from foreign adversaries.
It’s safe to assume that if the CCP is willing to lie about its spy balloon and cover up the origins of the worst pandemic in a hundred years, they’ll lie about using TikTok to spy on American citizens. It’s a high time we address this issue. I think this legislation goes about it in the right way and deals with some of the attacks that have been made in the past constitutionally, about how you approach specific for individual companies. But I’m pleased to be working with my colleagues on this and I hope that this is one of those issues that we can work in a bipartisan way to solve to get something on the President’s desk and start to attack this problem. Thank you. Next up is the Senator from West Virginia, Center Manchin.
Sen. Joe Manchin (09:08):
Thanks, Senator Thune. First of all, thank you to my dear friend Mark Warner, working so hard and diligently, and John Thune for putting this together because it’s a piece of legislation that’s needed. I remember Huawei was our most recent, and we had ZTE and [inaudible 00:09:23] and all them. I remember all those because we were basically threatened directly with our government and what we thought was going to be pertinent information. I can’t say that I know a whole lot about TikTok. Could I ask the question here? Because I called my granddaughters who are recent graduates, college graduates, but if I could ask, just a show hands maybe, how many of y’all use TikTok? Come on.
Sen. Mark Warner (09:46):
They’re not going to put their hands up.
Sen. Joe Manchin (09:49):
Come on. Okay, let’s just say this, we ask for your advice. I called my granddaughters and I said, “Tell me about this TikTok.” “Oh,” they said, “We use it all the time.” And they said, “Oh yeah, all of our friends, all of our young friends.” Now these are 22 to 25 year olds. And they said, “Oh yeah.” And I said, “Well, we have a concern.” They said, “Oh, please, be careful what you do here because it’s something how we communicate and we all enjoy it.” So it’s something very, very popular. As Senator Warner said, a hundred million people, and mostly a younger generation, I would assume.
So I said, “Let me ask you this. The information that you’re basically putting on there,” which the younger age groups, you all want to seem to tell everything so everybody in the world knows what you’re doing when you’re doing it and how you’re doing it, and I said, “With that, that’s fine. That’s the way you communicate.” And I said, “But how about if people use that and later on it comes back to bite you pretty bad?” Through artificial intelligence. They know exactly. They’re basically saying that, have your picture with my granddaughter’s and have your picture and your name associated with it and have you saying things you’ve never said because they know who you are and they know what you basically attain to and what’s a favorite for you and what what your normalities may be. I said, “Would you be concerned then?” They
Sen. Joe Manchin (11:00):
I said, “Oh yeah,” and they said, “Well, can’t you find an American platform?” And I said, “Well, that’s what we’re looking for.” We’ve got countries and the four countries I’ll identify that we know don’t have our values, China, most importantly, Russia, Iran, North Korea. They’re not going to have our best interest at heart, and they’re going to use basically any information they receive in the most detrimental way possible, and it’ll come back sooner or later to bite us. That’s what we’re concerned about. So the three that we basically have gone over and gone after and banned, this is one, this is probably as serious, if not more serious, than the three because of the amount of people that are using it. So I applaud, again, my colleagues and Senator Warner and Senator Thune for leading this, to bring this to a head so we know, but also we have to realize there’s an awful lot of people that are using it, enjoy it, and would be looking for something that will replace it in a much safer manner. So with all that, I applaud. I look forward to the next chapter of whatever we work on. It’ll be something that we can make much safer than what this is. Thank you. And now I will turn it over to Senator Romney. Thank you.
Senator Mitt Romney (12:04):
Thank you, Joe. I’ll tell you, when you see Senator Thune and Senator Warner come together, and this many from both sides of the aisle come together on a major piece of legislation, we’re not talking about a post office being named or a highway being named. We’re talking about a major piece of competitive and foreign policy legislation. When we come together, it says that Congress has recognized that China is not our dear friend. The Chinese Communist Party, that is, is not our dear friend. And any question about what China intends to do and what authoritarians tend to do is able to be seen by their treatment of the people in Hong Kong, the Uyghur people within China. You can see what authoritarians want to do by watching what Russia is doing in Ukraine. We have to recognize that we face geopolitical adversaries that are serious and threaten our security, our prosperity, and even the peace and freedom that we enjoy.
This piece of legislation is designed to help protect Americans and protect America and our friends. There are a lot of us that are concerned about privacy, and we say, “Gosh, we don’t want the government to know everything we’re doing. We want to protect our personal privacy.” Well, one thing a lot worse than having our government infringe on our privacy is having the Chinese Communist Party infringe on our privacy and be able to track us and follow us. And whether it’s with social media or other technologies, communication technologies or the hardware that they devise over the coming years, we have to make sure that we have the resources in place and the authorities in place to stop those things before they endanger us. I’m really proud to support this legislation and join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to do something which is necessary, overdue and critical to get passed as soon as possible. With that, Senator Bennet.
Senator Michael Bennet (13:57):
Thank you, Senator Romney. Thank you, everybody. It’s good to be here with you. I think the bipartisan leadership that’s up here today demonstrates that a Washington consensus that’s been here for about 50 years has now come to an end. And the idea that we’re in the face of China pursuing a China first strategy at the detriment of everything else that we might hold dear is over, and that we’re not going to allow them simply to pursue their strategy and allow us to be collateral damage. We’ve watched too long as they’ve stolen our IP, as they’ve implemented telecommunications equipment around the world that puts the world at risk of their surveillance scheme, as they’ve, as Senator Romney was just saying, exported their own surveillance state in China and around the world.
This is doing damage to humanity. And I think what you’re seeing are Republicans and Democrats coming together and saying, “It needs to come to an end.” And today in America, TikTok, just to name one platform, more than a hundred million Americans, almost 90 minutes a day are on a platform that Beijing won’t even allow its own people to use, is calling, “Digital opium,” but is happy for us to consume three weeks out of the year on their social media platform, which they won’t even share with their own people and are subject to the dictates of the Chinese Communist Party when it comes to the data that people are unwittingly in many places serving up to TikTok and to ByteDance. That’s why I wrote to Apple and Google and said, “Let’s take it off your app stores,” and as Chairman Warner said, “TikTok is only the latest example, but we know it’s not going to be the last.”
And we need Congress to move beyond the whack-a-mole solution that we have been focused on and have a more strategic approach. And that’s why I’m extremely pleased to be on this bill. I’m grateful to Chairman Warner and for Chairman Thune for their leadership as well. I do think we’re going to pass this, and I think this is going to be the beginning of the United States saying, “We are not going to be collateral damage and we’re going to take our future and our own destiny,” and with that, I think Senator Sullivan, my friend from Alaska, is next.
Senator Dan Sullivan (16:23):
Thank you, Michael.
Senator Michael Bennet (16:24):
Thank you. Now I’m even happier that I’m on this bill.
Senator Dan Sullivan (16:29):
Well, I want to thank Senator Warner, Senator Thune. Particularly Senator Warner, if you look at his background, both his private sector experience in technology and chairman of the Intel Committee, this is an individual who really knows the threat that we’re facing, and I think it’s great to be here with him. And this bipartisan group of senators, I think really cements what I’ve been saying for quite a long time. There’s a lot of dissension and partisanship here. One area where there there’s very little partisanship is the recognition, in a bipartisan way, on the serious nature of the Chinese Communist Party threat. We are very united as senators on this topic, and that’s really important for our allies to hear, and more importantly, it’s really important for the dictator in Beijing to hear. We’re very united and it’s going to stay that way because of the nature of the regime.
So what we need to be doing is bringing all instruments of American power and American policy to address the Chinese Communist Party challenge. That’s military, that’s energy, that’s technology, that’s our private sector, that’s our commitment to liberty and democracy. By the way, one of their biggest vulnerabilities is Xi Jinping fears his own people. That’s why they don’t allow TikTok to be seen in China. So I think this is a really important bill that fits one of the elements of our strategy on the tech side, particularly what they’re doing to our citizens. Let me just give you one example. This might be a crazy notion, and if it is, you can dismiss it, but I’m a little curious. We have this big project. Some of you might hear that it’s called the Willow Project in Alaska. It’s a big energy project. We’re trying to get it approved at the very high levels of the Biden administration.
One of the things that Chinese fear more than anything, in terms of our power, is American energy. You read the reporting, Xi Jinping is scared to death of American energy dominance. TikTok, in the last week, has had over 300 million views relating to stopping this project. Whoa. Maybe that’s the good work of some of the Lower 48 environmental groups, but maybe that’s the Chinese Communist Party trying to influence young Americans on an issue that, in my view, is really, really important for our country and will strengthen our country. Something you might want to look into. I’m very curious about it myself. But the nature of this regime, the Chinese Communist Party regime, as Senator Thune said, is to lie, and we need to be aware of that. And this legislation really, really, I think, is an important bipartisan step to addressing a huge challenge that we face with regard to China right now. And now I want to call on Senator Baldwin.
Senator Tammy Baldwin (19:34):
Thank You. Well, good afternoon, and to my colleagues, it is absolutely great to be up here with such a strong bipartisan group. We know that technology is changing rapidly and Americans are increasingly using it to share our lives, promote our businesses, to stay connected, and every member up here uses technology to better connect with our constituents and serve the people we represent in our home states. And while these powerful tools have lots of benefits, in recent years, we’ve seen companies owned by or controlled by our adversaries grow rapidly with little oversight and no transparency. Of course, a recent example is ByteDance, the Chinese technology company that owns TikTok.
But the scope of this problem is far wider than one single company. While many of these technologies and platforms are popular, especially with our young people, we also know these products have the potential to endanger American users and threaten our entire national security. When it comes to platforms and products owned by foreign adversaries like the CCP, there is next to no transparency for users about where their data is being stored and what the information is being used for. That’s why I’m proud to join my Democratic and Republican colleagues to introduce the RESTRICT Act to help our government protect Americans’ data from foreign adversaries and to keep our country safe.
This bipartisan legislation will empower us to respond to our changing media environment, giving the United States the tools that it needs to assess the threat of foreign-owned technology and, where appropriate, to take steps to restrict access. This legislation will give the United States authority to deal with today’s foreign owned tech companies, platforms and products, while also establishing the infrastructure to address new and emerging foreign owned products that could pose a threat in the future. Social media and technology, when used responsibly,
Senator Tammy Baldwin (22:00):
…responsibly. They are powerful tools that can connect users, help folks start or grow their small businesses and broaden horizons. But this is not always the case and it’s our job to ensure reasonable guardrails are in place to protect public safety, especially when it comes to foreign owned entities that could weaponize Americans’ data.
What do I mean by weaponizing Americans’ data? Through surveillance, identity theft, intellectual property theft to name just a few examples. This legislation takes that common sense step forward to protect Wisconsinites and Americans online from social media and tech giants owned by foreign adversaries. And with that, I want to welcome to the microphone, Senator Moran.
Sen. John Thune (22:53):
Tammy, thank you. Well, I’m pleased to be here in support of the Restrict Act. I thank my current chairman, Senator Warner on the Intelligence Committee and my former chairman on the Commerce Committee for their leadership in putting this legislation together and to bringing a group of serious senators to the table to see that we accomplish something. I’m hoping that this is the moment in which we do something in the United States Senate besides spending days, months, almost years doing confirmations.
I’m more concerned about the future of our country now than I’ve ever been. That in part is because we need to pull together as a nation to defeat the adversarial forces that are about to create difficulties, challenges, and in fact, the existential future of our country. We face tremendous challenges in this world, and it used to be that if we worried and took care of our military stance, that was sufficient. Today it’s important, but it’s not sufficient. And our economy and certainly our access to our privacy, to our information becomes critical in this world we live in.
Foreign adversary infiltration into our information and communication systems are a serious and growing challenge. These threats are not new and they’re not going away. The Department of Commerce needs the tools to review, to prevent, to mitigate, and really to prevent harmful products and services from continuing into tomorrow.
Personal data and conversations must be out of the reach of the influence of the Chinese Communist Party. And I would say that I would welcome any of my colleagues behind me and my other colleagues in the United States Senate to rejoin our efforts that started a number of years ago to pass a comprehensive data privacy piece of legislation in a bipartisan way.
This bill is a component of that privacy and a component of our national security. But we still desperately need to take on this issue in a broader way. And while we’ve come close, we have fallen short. The issue hasn’t disappeared, and we need to pass serious and appropriate data privacy legislation in addition to the Restrict Act.
Again, I thank my colleagues for the chance to join them and to be supportive, and I look forward to seeing this bill across the finish line.
Sen. Mark Warner (25:41):
Thank you, Jerry. Two quick points and then I’ll start to take questions. We’re going to restrict questions to this topic and if anybody’s got to sign off, I get it. One, and this was a point that Senator Romney made, but it really is important to repeat, our beef here is with the Communist Party of China. It is not with the Chinese people, it is not with the Chinese diaspora. It is sure as heck not with Chinese Americans. And failure to make that point, frankly plays into the propaganda agenda that oftentimes you see on WeChat and other Chinese-based apps.
Second, those of us on the Intel Committee tomorrow are going to have the leadership of the Intelligence Community before us. And one of the things I think you’re going to hear is that the traditional definition of national security, who’s got the most tanks, guns, planes, and ships, which clearly is still critically important as we see the battle between Ukraine and Russia play out, but increasingly it is also who wins the struggle for technology dominance.
The Congress in a bipartisan way recognize that around semiconductors, chips, we recognize that around the threat that Huawei plays. And this broad-based rules-based approach, I think will give us the tool again focused on those six nations that by law have been determined adversarial to take on these technology tools.
Speaker 1 (26:56):
Senator, just a two-part question for you. I take it you think these, a bunch of bills that we’re seeing come forward that are just straight bans, where they seek to empower the president to ban this app won’t pass court muster. And then just separately, for any of you, so many of you said, [inaudible 00:27:13] especially, you’ve talked about how many people use this app. So just practically, how do you put the genie back in the bottle?
Sen. Mark Warner (27:20):
Well, two or three quick things. One, nothing in this bill if passed would authorize any government action going after any individual user. Let me be clear on that. There are ways, and again, Senator Bennet had suggested to you that you could limit the sale on app stores. But this bill becomes law, there’s nobody individually is going to be held accountable.
Secondly, one of the things again that Senator Thune emphasized, we want to make sure that we didn’t invite other countries retaliating against the United States. So the idea of having a rules-based process that identifies types of technologies we think will stand up better in court muster. And let me acknowledge as well that when we’re talking about social media based apps, whether they are foreign or domestic, there’s a higher level of scrutiny. So we’ve listened to the outside legal experts on that issue.
And I do think there are, Senator Thune and I, for example, have got legislation along with Senator Fisher on dark patterns. Some of these practices that frankly are used by American companies. We’re focused today on foreign-based, and I’ll let Joe answer if he wants or John answer if he wants, but I think there will be plenty of video-based American-based applications that this bill would not affect at all. Do you want add to that?
Speaker 2 (28:50):
I think you covered it.
Speaker 3 (28:50):
Speaker 4 (28:53):
So it seems like China, it’s very obvious that China feels like they’re taking a lot of heat from Congress. What you guys are doing as well as the fact what’s happening on the health side with regards to the COVID origins [inaudible 00:29:01] just passed the bill to release that intel. So the Chinese Foreign Minister has just said that if the US doesn’t hit the break and it continues to speed down the wrong path, no amounts of guardrails will prevent derailing and there will surely be conflicts and confrontations. Do any of you have a reaction to this?
Sen. Mark Warner (29:21):
I’ll get my colleagues to talk about that. I’ll just point out this, $500 billion a year of intellectual property theft. For years use of entities called the Confucius Institutes at many universities that were used to prey upon Chinese exchange students. In the case of TikTok, content examples even with the statements of the TikTok that somehow Chinese engineers are not getting access to that American data, they are.
And we have seen an authoritarian regime that literally changed Chinese law in 2016 that requires that any company based in China, their number one responsibility is not to their customers, not to their shareholders, it is to the Communist Party of China. That is a very different system than what we have in this country, for all the flaws of our system.
Speaker 3 (30:11):
I would just say one thing on this foreign minister, if he would just basically evaluate what he’s allowing American companies to do in his country and see if it makes common sense that we should do the same, and why he should be upset about us taking the actions we’re taking, that’s all.
Sen. Mark Warner (30:28):
And again, many of the American platform companies have already been banned in China. And I would also point out just one other thing, this is not on, I know a lot of talk about TikTok here. Canada’s taking this action, the EU is taking this action. India banned TikTok years ago. Yeah.
Speaker 5 (30:41):
Senator, on TikTok specifically, there is an ongoing security review that the White House and [inaudible 00:30:46] are doing [inaudible 00:30:48]. Last week there was a hearing in [inaudible 00:30:50] Affairs Committee where Democrats particularly suggested any legislation like this should wait until that process has played out. Was that discussion, did you guys have that discussion about [inaudible 00:30:58]? And if so, why did you guys-
Sen. Mark Warner (30:59):
One, I can assure you that I’ve had some very positive conversations with House Democratic colleagues who I think are very interested in supporting this approach. Two, I think you’ll see shortly a statement from the administration embracing this approach. Three, okay, well it’s good timing then. Three, this is ancillary to CFIUS. CFIUS is still a process, we’ve got a safe harbor if CFIUS acts first, but CFIUS requires a transaction to trigger its tools. It doesn’t deal at all with something that’s an enterprise, a foreign-based technology enterprise that might just enter the market without a transaction.
Speaker 5 (31:44):
And really quickly, if you-
Sen. Mark Warner (31:46):
Well, we scared them right off. Okay.
Speaker 5 (31:48):
My understanding is that this bill will give the president additional authority and give [inaudible 00:31:53] amendment things to ban something like TikTok [inaudible 00:31:55] it actually requires a ban.
Sen. Mark Warner (31:56):
No, this gives the Secretary of Commerce a series of tools to mitigate, divest, up to and including banning.
Speaker 5 (32:03):
Will you guys be disappointed if the administration-
Sen. Mark Warner (32:06):
I think what, and again I think Senator Manchin made this and I’m, I’m not sure whether his granddaughter’s going to be pleased him talking about them in front of y’all, but this is a popular application. I think it’s going to be incumbent upon the government to show its cards in terms of how this is a threat.
I mean, I remember for years we would, my old friend Richard Burr and I, we’d go around try to talk to our allies and frankly American telecom companies about the challenges Huawei presented. We didn’t disclose and declassify enough of the intel. And consequently we’ve had leadership of people like Senator Wicker to go out and have to spend taxpayer dollars to rip and replace that equipment because it was a national security threat but we weren’t forthcoming enough early on. You want to add anything?
Speaker 2 (32:53):
No, that’s all right.
Sen. Mark Warner (32:53):
Joe? Here we go.
Speaker 6 (32:57):
It wasn’t just the Chinese foreign minister, it was also
Speaker 7 (33:00):
So China’s president, Xi Jinping today, he said that the US was trying to suppress China. In the wake of this, the Chinese spy balloon, what you all have learned about TikTok, what’s your message to the Chinese president?
Sen. Mark Warner (33:14):
Well, my message is our economies are inexorably tied and there’s certain areas we’re going to have to collaborate. But the idea of China having a win at all costs in terms of technology domination, China’s actions in the South China Seas, I just came back from a trip to India where there are Chinese troops masked on the Indian border at a level that’s extraordinarily aggressive, Chinese investment in technology domain after technology domain, this is the competition of this century.
And again, I think Senator Manchin probably said it, and again, I’ll ask Jerry or John if they want to add on to this. Look at how Chinese enterprises have treated joint ventures with not just American, but other European, the requirement of moving the intellectual property over. This theft of intellectual property doesn’t just go against America, it goes against a number of nations. The whole notion that many of us operate, and I was part of this in the beginning of the 20th century, is the more you bring China into the WTO and the international order, the more it will adhere to international rules and norms just hasn’t proven to be the case. Guys, do you want to…
Senator Jerry Moran (34:21):
You said it well.
Sen. John Thune (34:22):
Yeah. No, I just think Mark’s point is the right one, and that is that if you’re doing business in China, your number one allegiance has to be to the CCP. We have a free market economy. We have a Constitution, a Bill of Rights, and the rule of law. And so, when we go about a process like this, it has to be orderly. It has to be a way that can withstand legal challenge. And we think that this does that rather than picking out, kind of handpicking, we talked about this earlier, the whack-a-mole strategy of this particular technology or this particular company. This creates something that I think complements what CFIUS does and gets at the heart of the matter, and that is the fact that China, through their technology, is stealing Americans’ data and their information. And of course, as we know, their administration lies on a daily basis.
So I think the message is yes, we have a symbiotic relationship with China when it comes to our two economies, but that has to be conducted in an open, transparent way in which we have an opportunity to determine whether or not they are not playing by the rules. And I think this process enables that to happen.
Sen. Mark Warner (35:31):
And again, we’ll just point out as well, remember that one of the first examples of this wasn’t even a Chinese entity. It was because Kaspersky software, which was Russian-based and literally took us years to get it off the GSA acquisition list.
Speaker 8 (35:44):
Mr. Chairman, is there any provision in your legislation that would prevent predatory data brokers from collecting information here in the US and then sending it to a foreign entity?
Sen. Mark Warner (35:59):
Great question. By expanding the definition of ICTS, in terms of telecom and communications related entities, I think a number of us are concerned about that predatory activity. But there would have to be still that rules-based process that the Commerce Department would have to show how usage of that data and potentially turning it over to an adversarial nation, China or otherwise, would be a national security risk. I think the case could be made, but that would be part of the process. Please.
Speaker 9 (36:32):
The Commerce Secretary indicated in an interview, I think it was about a month ago or so, about TikTok specifically, that banning it would be a politically unpopular thing to do with young people. I wonder if you worry at all about any of your colleagues in the Senate or in the House making a political calculation and voting against this type of legislation because young people won’t…
Sen. Mark Warner (36:56):
Politics in the Congress?
Speaker 9 (36:58):
They won’t be happy with you. Is that a legitimate concern?
Sen. Mark Warner (37:03):
Yeah. People will have to make their own decision. Setting up a rules-based process to go after foreign technology that interferes with our national security, and I think when we see the case that already been made, when we see the amount of data that TikTok says they protect, and frankly, story after story where it’s not protected, I will trust that the vast majority of us, regardless of party, will do the right thing. And I would never underestimate the ability of American technology to provide like kind products with the better protections. We’ll take just a couple more. Please.
Speaker 10 (37:42):
You mentioned how ingrained TikTok is in American society, particularly among young people. There are a number of your colleagues who still use TikTok here on Capitol Hill. Lots of elected officials across the country also use it. They say it’s to reach their audiences and everything. What is your message to them, those of your colleagues who are still using TikTok?
Sen. Mark Warner (38:02):
Well, first of all, there’s a lot of creative activity on TikTok. It has been a very effective tool for people to gain prominence as social influencers. I’m not by any means decrying that everything on TikTok is somehow bad. It’s not.
But we’ve got two challenges that I think is one of the reasons why the CIFI process has taken so long and why these tools could be useful, is you’ve got 100 million Americans, 90 minutes a day, the potential for that American data combined with things like data brokers, to end up residing someplace in Beijing and the ability of the CCP to manipulate the kind of videos. I don’t know what Senator Sullivan talked about, but if that proves to be the case, I do know that there is a, not by the name of TikTok, but there is a variation on TikTok that is shown to Chinese youth and emphasizes science, education, work hard, be a patriot, not so much for our kids. So I think this has been moving quickly, and I think everybody… Again, it was two years ago, or roughly two years, the military banned it around Christmas, that the Senate took unanimous action. I think the House took virtually unanimous action as well. So I think this is something that we’re all getting educated along the process. Last question.
Speaker 11 (39:36):
What would you say to the millions of Americans who use this app every day and say they have a right to use it and that this would violate their First Amendment rights?
Sen. Mark Warner (39:45):
What I’d say is there is a higher level standard on social media apps. So we have to demonstrate, or the administration would have to demonstrate, that data is being stored and potentially utilized by the CCP. And there have been plenty of press reports where TikTok engineers have actually targeted individual journalists or data has been found, or the potential in terms of the manipulation of the videos that could end up being an agent of propaganda or malign influence. We made similar type judgements in terms of Russian interference in 2016. I think the vast majority of Americans, when they fully understand the potential threat, will do the right thing.
Speaker 11 (40:50):
What’s the limit here? Do you use the national security to shut down any app the government wants?
Sen. Mark Warner (40:54):
Well, again, we have a limit that is coming, communication technology is coming from six designated countries, a rules-based process, a requirement that the IC, as much as possible without giving up sources and methods, would disclose the reasons why the government would reach a conclusion. So it’s not just, “Trust us,” it’s, “Look at the data.” And yeah, again, I’ll end where I started, which is we’ve seen this play out with Wallway, with ZTE. We’ve seen it as we now go into the competition around artificial intelligence and quantum computing, synthetic biology, advanced energy. I absolutely believe that China, with its authoritarian values, dominating those technologies is not in the national security interest of our country or for that matter, people across the world who don’t live in authoritarian regimes. Thank you all very much. I’m sure we’ll have more to say later.