US ban threat grows after TikTok lambasted in Congress

A U.S. ban on Chinese-owned TikTok, the country’s most popular social media outlet for young people, looks increasingly inevitable a day after its CEO was grilled by Washington lawmakers from across the political spectrum.

But the Biden administration will have to tread carefully in denying 150 million Americans their preferred platform over its China ties, especially after an earlier effort by then-President Donald Trump was invalidated. by a US court.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced a barrage of questions from US lawmakers who made clear their belief that the best-known app for sharing jokes and dance routines was a threat to national security. of the United States as well as a mental health hazard.

In a tweet, TikTok leader Vanessa Pappas lamented an audience “rooted in xenophobia”.

With Republicans and Democrats against him in Congress, Chew now faces an ultimatum from the White House that TikTok will either sever ties with ByteDance, its China-based owners, or be banned in America.

Bipartisan legislation

A ban will depend on the passage of legislation called the RESTRICT ACT, a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate this month that gives the US Department of Commerce the power to ban foreign technologies that threaten national security.

Asked about Chew’s tumultuous hearing, spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated the White House’s support for the legislation, which is one of several congressional proposals to ban or clamp down on TikTok.

FILE – The U.S. headquarters of TikTok is seen in Culver City, California September 15, 2020.

The sell or stop order tears apart 2.5 years of negotiations between the White House and TikTok to find a way for the company to continue operating under its current ownership while addressing national security concerns.

These discussions resulted in a proposal by TikTok called Project Texas in which the personal data of American users would remain in the United States and would be inaccessible to Chinese law or surveillance.

But the White House turned sour after FBI and Justice Department officials said vulnerabilities to China would persist.

“It’s hard for TikTok to prove a negative. ‘No, we don’t pass any data to the Chinese government.’ Look at how skeptical our European partners are of American companies where we have a strong legal system,” said Michael Daniel, executive director of the Cyber ​​Threat Alliance, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to cybersecurity.

Currently, the White House’s preferred solution is for TikTok to sever ties with ByteDance either through a sale or a spin-off.

“My understanding is that what has been pushed is the parent company’s divestiture of TikTok,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday.

Impossible to achieve?

But this option is fraught with pitfalls, with many experts saying TikTok cannot function without ByteDance, which develops the app’s cutting-edge technology.

“ByteDance’s ownership of TikTok and the golden jewel algorithm at the center of this security debate is a burning issue that won’t necessarily be solved by a spin-off or the sale of the assets alone,” Dan said. Ives of Wedbush Securities.

Proving the point, China has ruled out greenlighting a sale of TikTok, citing its own laws to protect sensitive technology from foreign buyers.

That leaves a TikTok ban that would undeniably benefit domestic rivals Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

An unknown is whether a death sentence for TikTok will cost Washington politically among voters.

Through a ban, “a democracy will take actions that will impede the ability of young Americans to express themselves and earn a living,” said Sarah Kreps, professor of government at Cornell University.

Does the fact that lawmakers grilled the TikTok CEO minimize the danger of a political backlash?

“I want to say this to all the teenagers…who think we’re just old and out of touch,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican. “You may not care about your data being accessed now, but there will be a day when you do.”

USA voanews

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