Two companion bills have been introduced in Congress proposing a ban on TikTok because of its parent company’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party and its data collection practices.
The social media app has 85 million American users and has denied that it stores collected user data in China. Several cybersecurity leaders, including FCC commissioners and FBI Director Christopher Wray, have warned that the short-form video app and its parent company, ByteDance, are threats to national security.
“TikTok is digital fentanyl that’s addicting Americans, collecting troves of their data, and censoring their news,” said Representative Matthew Gallagher of Wisconsin in a Dec. 13 statement. “It’s also an increasingly powerful media company that’s owned by ByteDance, which ultimately reports to the Chinese Communist Party – America’s foremost adversary.”
Gallagher, a Republican, and Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois are the House’s co-sponsors for the Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party (ANTI-SOCIAL CCP) Act. They are joined by Pennsylvania Representative Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania.
“Allowing the app to continue to operate in the U.S. would be like allowing the U.S.S.R. to buy up the New York Times, Washington Post, and major broadcast networks during the Cold War,” Gallagher added. “No country with even a passing interest in its own security would allow this to happen, which is why it’s time to ban TikTok and any other CCP-controlled app before it’s too late.”
Krishnamoorthi warned that America’s adversaries are “seeking any advantage they can find against the United States through espionage and mass surveillance.”
“It is imperative that we do not allow hostile powers to potentially control social media networks that could be easily weaponized against us,” the representative continued.
If passed, the bill will compel President Joe Biden to exercise the powers of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to “block and prohibit all transactions in all property and interests in property of a social media company” that operates in the US with over 1 million users or that is under “substantial influence” of America’s adversaries. This could be China as well as Russia, Iran or Cuba. The federal government would take action “to the extent necessary to prevent commercial operation of the social media company in the United States, are or come within the possession or control of a United States person.”
TikTok, ByteDance and any subsidiaries are specifically named in the bill.
In the Senate, the ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act was introduced by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who said the measure would protect Americans.
“The federal government has yet to take a single meaningful action to protect American users from the threat of TikTok. This isn’t about creative videos — this is about an app that is collecting data on tens of millions of American children and adults every day,” he said.
“We know it’s used to manipulate feeds and influence elections,” Rubio added. “Here is no more time to waste on meaningless negotiations with a CCP-puppet company. It is time to ban Beijing-controlled TikTok for good.”
State leaders have taken steps during the last two weeks to prevent the use of TikTok on government-owned devices because of potential threats to the security of confidential data.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, South Carolina Henry McMaster, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox, and Alabama Governor Kay Ivey all issued executive orders since the end of November citing the company’s ties to the Chinese government.
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts banned TikTok from any government-issued devices in August of 2020.
“The Chinese government has long engaged in systematic, covert efforts to access sensitive data from U.S. governments, companies, and individuals,” Ricketts said, per Fox Business. “As an app owned by a company based in China, TikTok is legally obligated to provide data from its users to the country’s communist regime upon request.”
The app is already prohibited on devices distributed by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and the Department of Defense. President Donald Trump banned the app in an executive order which was reversed by Biden when he took office. Instead, Biden requested a national security review.
According to US News and World Report, “the U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, in 2020 ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok because of fears that U.S. user data could be passed on to China’s communist government.”
TikTok objects to the proposed federal ban.
“It’s troubling that rather than encouraging the Administration to conclude its national security review of TikTok, some members of Congress have decided to push for a politically-motivated ban that will do nothing to advance the national security of the United States,” said spokeswoman Hilary McQuaide in a statement.