Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate on March 7 would give the Commerce Department authority to review, prevent, prohibit, and “mitigate transactions involving information and communications technology products in which any foreign adversary has any interest and poses an undue or unacceptable risk to national security,” including China and Russia.

The bill – the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act – is sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who is ranking member of the Senate Communications, Media and Broadband Subcommittee.  

Ten other senators from both sides of the aisle are cosponsors of the legislation. 

A reading of the broadly written bill indicates that the proposed 180-day Commerce Department reviews of objectionable technology-based products and services would allow the government to ban a wide range of information and communications technology (ICTS) products and services connected to at least six nations defined as U.S adversaries. 

White House Endorsement

The Senate bill drew an enthusiastic response from the White House, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan applauding the measure that he said would “empower the United States government to prevent certain foreign governments from exploiting technology services operating in the United States in a way that poses risks to Americans’ sensitive data and our national security.”

 “The information and communications technology products and services supply chain is integral to the lives of Americans and the functioning of U.S. businesses,” Sullivan said. “This bill presents a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans.”

“This legislation would provide the U.S. government with new mechanisms to mitigate the national security risks posed by high-risk technology businesses operating in the United States,” he said. “Critically, it would strengthen our ability to address discrete risks posed by individual transactions, and systemic risks posed by certain classes of transactions involving countries of concern in sensitive technology sectors. This will help us address the threats we face today, and also prevent such risks from arising in the future.”

 “We look forward to continue working with both Democrats and Republicans on this bill, and urge Congress to act quickly to send it to the President’s desk,” Sullivan said. 

Key Legislative Terms

According to its text, the legislation would cover “current, past, or potential future transactions,” and presumably would allow the government to unwind technology uses and transactions that are already in place. 

The bill’s language defines foreign adversaries to include China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela. 

ICTS products and services covered by the bill include hardware and software, while ICTS entities covered by the bill include those that own, control, or manage ICTS products and services; have at least one million United States-based active users; or have sold one million units of product in the U.S. 

The bill would authorize the Commerce Secretary, in consultation with other Federal agencies, to impose “mitigation measures” to address risks arising from any covered transactions that:

  • Pose an undue or unacceptable risk of “sabotage or subversion of the design, integrity, manufacturing, production, distribution, installation, operation, or maintenance of ICTS products and services in the U.S.”;
  • Threaten to cause “catastrophic effects on the security or resilience of the critical infrastructure or digital economy of the United States”;
  • Interfere with or alter the result of Federal elections;
  • Involve “coercive or criminal activities by a foreign adversary that are designed to undermine democratic processes and institutions or steer policy and regulatory decisions in favor of the strategic objectives of a foreign adversary to the detriment of the national security of the United States”; or 
  • Otherwise pose an “undue or unacceptable risk” to the national security of the United States or 24 the safety of United States persons.

What Senators are Saying

“Today, the threat that everyone is talking about is TikTok, and how it could enable surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party, or facilitate the spread of malign influence campaigns in the U.S.,” said Sen. Warner. “Before TikTok, however, it was Huawei and ZTE, which threatened our nation’s telecommunications networks. And before that, it was Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, which threatened the security of government and corporate devices.”

“We need a comprehensive, risk-based approach that proactively tackles sources of potentially dangerous technology before they gain a foothold in America, so we aren’t playing Whac-A-Mole and scrambling to catch up once they’re already ubiquitous,” he said.

“Congress needs to stop taking a piecemeal approach when it comes to technology from adversarial nations that pose national security risks,” said Sen. Thune.

“Our country needs a process in place to address these risks, which is why I’m pleased to work with Senator Warner to establish a holistic, methodical approach to address the threats posed by technology platforms – like TikTok – from foreign adversaries,” he said. “This bipartisan legislation would take a necessary step to ensure consumers’ information and our communications technology infrastructure is secure.”

Cosponsors of the bill are Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Michael Bennett, D-Colo.; Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

Read More About
More Topics
John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.