The Joe Biden White House is “very in favor” of a Senate bill that would allow the federal commerce department to outlaw technologies with connections to other countries, according to one of the bill’s authors. However, he did not specify whether the president’s administration had discussed possibly outlawing the Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok in particular.
On CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday morning, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia stated that the proposed legislation had gained support from both 11 Democrats, including himself, and 11 Republicans in his congressional chamber.
“I think the White House is very in favor of this bill,” said Warner, chairperson of the Senate’s select committee on intelligence. Without saying whether Biden’s administration would push for these steps to be taken against TikTok, Warner added: “We [would] give the secretary of commerce the tools to ban, to force a sale.”
TikTok has garnered intense congressional scrutiny because the Chinese government, a competitor global powerhouse to the US, may have access to user data on the popular video-sharing app. TikTok is owned by the Chinese corporation ByteDance, and according to Warner, byteDance is obligated by Chinese law to provide user data to the Communist Party, which controls the nation.
A complete ban of San Jose-based TikTok has been supported by several MPs. The Restricting the Development of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Act, which Warner and the Republican senator from South Dakota John Thune have drafted, is one of the other answers from Capitol Hill.
The legislation, also referred to as the Restrict Act, would give the president the power to examine foreign-sourced technology through the commerce department. Depending on the results of any review, the commerce department may subsequently try to ban those technology or attempt to force their sale.
The idea would need to pass both congressional houses and be signed by the president in order to become law, as is the case with all similar measures. The Restrict Act has garnered support from all sides of the political spectrum in the Senate, where Democrats and the independents who caucus with them hold a 51-49 lead. There is a modest numerical advantage for Republicans in the House of Representatives.
Three days prior to Warner’s comments on Sunday, Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok, spent five hours in public facing questions from US House members. Chew defended TikTok’s ties with China during his testimony, claiming that the government of that nation had never asked for user information and that the platform would not accede to such a request.
“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” Chew said during the occasionally testy session, at which he also tried to assuage concerns about how the platform affects the mental health of its youngest users.
On Sunday, Warner expressed his dissatisfaction with Chew’s performance in front of Congress.
“While I appreciated Mr Chew’s testimony, he just couldn’t answer the basic questions,” Warner said. “At the end of the day, TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, … and by Chinese law, that company has to be willing to turn over data.”
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a congresswoman from Washington and the chairwoman of the House energy and commerce committee, made a separate appearance on CNN’s State of the Union to make the case that TikTok could not be trusted despite Chew’s testimony. TikTok should be outlawed in the US, according to the Republican congressman, who referred to it as a “instant threat.”
Although having nothing to do with TikTok, US concerns about Chinese government spying grew after American fighter aircraft downed a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on February 4. According to later reports, the US was looking into whether the balloon’s detour into US airspace after taking off from China’s Hainan Island was caused by strong winds.
(Adapted from TheGuardian.com)