Romney, other senators look at power to ban ‘digital opium’ TikTok

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks during the news conference to introduce the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information Communications Technology Act, or RESTRICT Act, Tuesday, March 7, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks during the news conference to introduce the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information Communications Technology Act, or RESTRICT Act, Tuesday, March 7, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. | Mariam Zuhaib, Associated Press
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

A group of U.S. senators, including Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, struck a strikingly bipartisan tone at a press conference Tuesday as they said they were united in challenging the threat China and others pose in the area of technology, specifically calling out the dangers of the social media app TikTok.

“When you see Sen. (John) Thune and Sen. (Mark) Warner come together on a major piece of legislation … it says that Congress has recognized that the … Chinese Communist Party is not our dear friend,” said Romney.

Romney and the other senators announced the introduction of the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act, or RESTRICT Act, which would give the president and commerce secretary the power to mitigate the effects of hardware, software and social media placed in the U.S. by countries that are “adversarial,” up to and including a ban on their use.

The United States faces geopolitical adversaries that threaten its peace and freedom, said Romney. He raised issues around individuals’ personal privacy, and said it was critical the legislation is passed “as soon as possible.”

The bipartisan group of senators were led by Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, and Thune, a Republican from South Dakota.

Besides China, Warner listed Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela as countries that would be affected by the legislation.

When asked what message he would give to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Warner said he would say “our economies are inexorably tied” but he was concerned about China’s “win-at-all-costs” approach to technology domination.

Mariam Zuhaib, Associated Press
Mariam Zuhaib, Associated Press

“This is the competition of the century,” he said.

But instead of playing “whack-a-mole,” the U.S. needs to take a more comprehensive approach, Warner said. He praised the Trump administration’s efforts on this issue, an approach he said the Biden administration has continued to use, but said the executive branch needs more authority to combat the growing threat.

Thune echoed Warner’s sentiments, saying it is clear that “TikTok is a threat to our national security.”

The senators said they recognize the popularity of TikTok, especially among young people.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he spoke to his college-age granddaughters to ask what they think, and they said to be careful about banning the popular app. But, he said, they were also willing to use a replacement.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, called TikTok “digital opium” and said Beijing wouldn’t even let the Chinese people use the unfiltered app.

Several states, including Utah, have limited use of TikTok on state-owned devices.