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TikTok bans are gaining momentum in Washington and the United States

TikTok bans are gaining momentum in Washington and the United States

TikTok bans are gaining momentum in Washington and the United States

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The Biden administration negotiated with TikTok for two years to resolve government concerns that the popular Chinese-owned video app poses a national security risk. But as the talks drag on, state and federal lawmakers have grown impatient and have taken matters into their own hands.

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In recent weeks, at least 14 states have banned TikTok on government-issued devices. In Congress, lawmakers are expected to vote this week on a sweeping spending bill that includes a ban on TikTok on all federal government devices. A separate bipartisan bill, which was introduced in Congress last week, would ban the app for everyone in the United States. Additionally, the Indiana attorney general sued TikTok, accusing the company of being misleading about the security and privacy risks the app poses.

What started a few years ago as a Trump administration effort has become an increasingly bipartisan issue. Politicians on both sides share concerns that the app could monitor users in the United States and put sensitive data, including location information, into the hands of the Chinese government.

Federal officials have also expressed concern about how China could use the app to influence Americans via videos delivered through TikTok’s algorithm that delivers highly personalized videos to users based on their profiles and backgrounds. interests. FBI Director Christopher Wray warned last month that the Chinese government could use TikTok for “influence operations”, or try to use the app to infiltrate and compromise devices.

“It’s a widespread concern at this point — it’s not just Republicans, it’s not just Democrats,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat, who last week joined Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, a Republican, and other lawmakers to announce legislation to ban TikTok in the United States.

“It’s going to get even stronger over the next year,” he added, “unless significant changes are made to how TikTok is run in the United States and its ownership structure has not adjusted”.

The bans are part of escalating tensions between the United States and China over global technology and economic leadership. The Biden administration and Beijing have introduced huge national government spending programs to build tech supply chains within their own borders, ending decades of global trade policy, in an arms race to chip manufacturing and the production of electric vehicles and batteries.

In Washington and state capitals, criticism of TikTok and other Chinese companies has become a common topic of discussion.

US officials have argued that TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance and has about 100 million users in the United States, may share sensitive data about Americans’ location, personal habits and interests with the government. Chinese. The application is particularly popular with young people. According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of American teens use TikTok, making it second in popularity after YouTube.

TikTok has long denied sharing data with Chinese government officials and has tried to distance itself from its parent company. The company points to its incorporation in the Cayman Islands and its offices in New York, Los Angeles, Singapore and Washington, DC, as evidence that the service’s operations are rooted outside of China.

But Washington maintained a skeptical stance. Its investigation into the application – led by a multi-agency group called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States – began under the Trump administration. In 2020, President Donald J. Trump attempted to ban the service from Apple and Google’s app stores unless the company was sold to an American company. But federal courts overturned the ban and Mr Trump left office without resolving the issue.

Since then, the company has been locked in negotiations with the Biden administration over changes to how the company stores and maintains access to US user data.

In a presentation to Biden administration and intelligence officials, TikTok detailed an elaborate plan to store U.S. user data on Oracle servers and to erect walls that would block the ability of employees to access that data. of ByteDance or Chinese government officials.

Brooke Oberwetter, a spokesperson for TikTok, said in an email on Monday that the plan would “meaningfully address all security concerns that have been raised at the federal and state level,” and that the company would offer the government and independent monitoring to address concerns. on its content recommendations and access to US user data.

“Politicians concerned about national security should encourage the administration to conclude its national security review of TikTok,” Ms. Oberwetter wrote. “Additional measures are unnecessary and punitive; they send a chilling message to foreign tech companies that want to do business in the United States and offer globally interoperable experiences to compete with other global platforms.

A spokesperson for the Treasury Department, which oversees the national security review of the app, declined to comment. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to take a position on legislation banning TikTok on federal government devices when asked about it last week.

“I know this just happened, so we’re going to let Congress move forward with their processes on this,” she said. She added that TikTok was among a range of apps that were already not allowed “on the White House and other federal government work equipment for security reasons.”

In September, President Biden asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to consider whether the deals it reviews have the potential for a foreign entity to profit from Americans’ data. The administration has also been working on another executive order that would enforce greater scrutiny of how foreign actors could obtain data from Americans. It’s unclear if – and if – it will be released.

Lawmakers are tired of waiting to see how it goes.

“My patience is running out,” Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat of Virginia and Intelligence Committee member, said in an email. He has not signed legislation banning TikTok, but has strongly criticized the company and expressed support for states that have banned TikTok on government devices.

A bill introduced by a Republican Senator, Josh Hawley of Missouri, that would ban the app on federal government devices has been included in the omnibus spending bill expected to pass in the coming days. The bill, which the Senate passed, would be the broadest restriction on enforcement yet.

“I hope this will serve as a wake-up call for the administration to move,” Mr. Hawley said in an interview. “This bill is an important and major action against TikTok and sends a signal to all Americans that if it is not safe for someone who has a federal device to have it, should my child have it? have on his phone? Maybe not.”

Republican governors have been particularly active on the issue, announcing a ban on the app on state government devices. The governors of Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, North Dakota South, Texas, Utah and Virginia have all announced bans in the past three weeks. Nebraska banned TikTok from state-issued devices in 2020.

Some of the state rules include bans on other Chinese apps and telecom providers such as WeChat and Huawei. Maryland’s action has extended to some Russian-influenced products like Kaspersky, antivirus software.

The Pentagon warned military branches of the “potential risk associated with using the TikTok app” in December 2019, prompting subsequent bans on the app on government devices in the military, marine corps, military, and military. Air Force and Coast Guard.

Restrictions on government-issued devices can be enforced through software that blocks or limits the download of certain apps on official equipment. The rules do not prevent a government employee from downloading the app to a personal device.

A TikTok ban for all US users would face more challenges. Consumers continue to clamor for the app despite warnings from authorities and may push back. Additionally, the bipartisan bill in Congress banning consumers from using the app raises First Amendment concerns, said Kurt Opsahl, general counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates for freedom of speech. expression.

“It takes away a means of communication for people using the app to introduce themselves to the world and, in some cases, for speeches and political commentary,” Mr. Opsahl said. “A complete ban is not the right solution to the problem.”

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