TikTok: The clock is ticking to ban this dangerous Chinese app
The Biden administration says it understands that TikTok poses a serious threat to privacy and foreign interference. According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, the Chinese video storage “screams of national security concerns.”
Avril Haines, director of National Intelligence, said parents should be concerned about their children’s exposure to the app.
And Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo argues that if she bans TikTok, “the politician in me thinks you’re literally going to lose every voter under 35 forever.”
Raimondo’s admission that political self-interest influences national security decisions is especially troubling now that the White House has backed Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-Va.) RESTRICTION Act, a proposal that would give him nearly unlimited discretion and authority to deal with foreign technology threats. in treatment. .
Bar Touted as a solution to TikTok’s national security threat, the legislation doesn’t actually require any action against any social media platform at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In fact, the bill doesn’t even mention TikTok. It also ignores loopholes in the sanctions law that TikTok has previously used in lawsuits to evade US government action. TikTok is pleased with the Warner bill and agrees that it is not a ban.
Instead, the LIMITATION Act allows—but does not require—the commerce secretary to “identify, deter, disrupt, prevent, prohibit, investigate, or otherwise mitigate … any risk arising from any covered transaction by any person, or by any person regarding. real estate.” Under the new authority, a “covered transaction” is virtually any commercial activity with China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia or Venezuela that involves an “information and communications technology product or service.”
It is unclear exactly how the broad new powers created by this legislation interact with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which investigates threats from foreign businesses operating in the United States. In 2020, the commission recommended that President Trump issue an executive order requiring TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, to sell the social media app. Although still on file, the order never took effect after TikTok won a related court case by exploiting a loophole in the sanctions law.
Today, the Biden administration and CFIUS are negotiating with Bytedance behind closed doors. The chairs of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committee raised “the deeply troubling possibility that CFIUS could approve an agreement that would allow the People’s Republic of China to maintain significant influence over TikTok and, most importantly, its core technology.” algorithm despite the significant objections of the national security agencies.”
Simply put, TikTok’s national security risks cannot be meaningfully addressed while Bytedance, a Chinese company legally responsible for the requests of the CCP and Chinese intelligence services, remains its owner.
Bytedance has already used the platform to spy on American journalists. A technical study of the Chinese app found it “extremely unusual” that TikTok “has carte blanche access to the device” and is “able to change the app’s behavior at will without users’ knowledge.” Another analysis of seven popular social media apps found that “TikTok seems to be the only one watching [users’] keystrokes.” TikTok has acknowledged that such capabilities exist, but has promised not to use them. Of course not.
US implemented data security protocols are only good until Bytedance sends the next app update and open source research shows that the same Bytedance engineers work on TikTok and the company’s domestic Chinese apps, which are tightly controlled and censored by the government. Of equal concern is that TikTok offers the CCP a valuable tool for political intervention or information warfare against the United States.
If the CFIUS deal fails — and whistleblowers say it will — more steps will be needed. According to records, Sec. Raimondo is politically unwilling to ban TikTok. But the White House decided to back a bill that would give his office broad authority to decide the federal government’s response, including doing nothing.
The administration’s support for the RESTRICTION Act increases the risk that TikTok’s national security threat will go unaddressed by crowding out a more advanced response in the House.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has already approved a data law that specifically bans CCP-linked social media networks and fixes the sanctions loophole that TikTok slipped through. House Democrats argued against the bill, saying that banning TikTok would somehow harm national security, was too broad and not sufficiently coordinated with CFIUS review. Days later, the White House sponsored the much more expansive and vague LIMITATION Act in the Senate.
The RESTRICTION Act may help counter technological threats from China and other foreign adversaries, but it leaves TikTok’s national security threat unresolved and open to politically motivated compromises. House Republicans have indicated they are willing to work across chambers and parties for a comprehensive response. Whatever form this consensus takes, any credible solution must include concrete measures to end TikTok’s threat to US national security.
Bryan Burack is senior policy advisor for China and the Indo-Pacific at The Heritage Foundation.
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