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US House committee approves proposals to make a TikTok ban easier to instigate

By | Published on Thursday 2 March 2023


The Foreign Affairs Committee in the US House Of Representatives yesterday gave its approval to proposed new laws that would make it easier for President Joe Biden to ban the use of TikTok within America.

Those proposals were only introduced into the House last week. They come amid increased concern in political circles in US and elsewhere about what access the Chinese government may or may not have access to TikTok user-data via the app’s China-based owner Bytedance.

Of course, there has been plenty of discussion about China’s access to TikTok user-data before, with other proposals having been made regarding how governments could better regulate the TikTok platform – or how Bytedance could restructure its business to address the issues raised by the politicians.

However, these ongoing discussions do seem to have risen up the agenda again in Washington ahead of a planned session of the House’s Energy And Commerce Committee later this month at which TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will directly face questioning by American law-makers.

When TikTok data concerns first became a headline-grabbing topic within US political circles then President Donald Trump tried to outright ban use of the app within the US. However, that ban never went into effect because of legal challenges in the American courts. It was then rescinded by Biden.

The legal reforms being considered by the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week would clarify what powers the US President has to ban the use of certain apps in certain circumstances, making it harder to challenge any future ban in the courts.

CNN explains: “The legislation would empower the Biden administration to impose a nationwide TikTok ban under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act”.

“The bill’s text specifically names TikTok and its parent, Bytedance, and requires President Joe Biden to impose penalties against the companies, up to and potentially including a ban, if the administration determines they may have knowingly transferred TikTok’s user data to ‘any foreign person’ working for or under the influence of the Chinese government”.

“Sanctions would also be required”, CNN’s explanation continues, “if the Biden administration finds the companies helped the Chinese government engage in surveillance, hacking, censorship or intelligence-gathering; facilitated election meddling in the United States or in another democratic ally; or helped the Chinese government influence US policymaking, among other things”.

Although concerns about TikTok are found across the political spectrum, at this week’s committee hearing Democrats expressed concern that these specific proposals had been rushed onto the agenda and needed much more scrutiny.

Obviously, while TikTok is specifically named, the new rules could affect a wider range of tech companies, and Democrat lawmakers were concerned about the committee giving its backing to the proposals without considering all the possible ramifications.

However, Republican committee members stressed that there was now a need to deal with the ongoing concerns around TikTok as a matter of urgency, hence the need to fast-track these latest proposals.

Noting that US government employees are now banned from using TikTok on work devices, Republican Committee Chair Michael McCaul – who is also sponsoring the bill setting out the proposals – said: “How can we ban TikTok among ourselves and not ban it for our children?”

“That is the moral question of today and of our time. TikTok is a modern-day Trojan horse of the [Chinese Communist Party] used to surveil and exploit Americans’ personal information… in other words, it’s a spy balloon in your phone”.

TikTok continues to deny there are any issues with user-data and privacy on its platform. It’s spokesperson, Brooke Oberwetter, said of this week’s committee session in the House: “A US ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide”.

“We’re disappointed”, she went on, “to see this rushed piece of legislation move forward, despite its considerable negative impact on the free speech rights of millions of Americans who use and love TikTok”.

She added that the priority should be completing the long-term negotiations between TikTok and the Biden White House to a agree national security deal that would aim to allay all the political concerns.

All this was happening as TikTok announced some new measures to given parents more control of how their teenage children interact with the app. That includes a default 60 minute screen time limit to restrict excessive scrolling through endless nonsense videos.

Which at least means those Chinese government officials will only be able to grab an hours worth of intelligence about each American child each day. Maybe. Perhaps. Hey, that’s progress, people!