The House committee is expected to vote on a bill that would make it easier to ban TikTok and other China-related economic activities. Civil liberties advocates are against the proposal, citing its broadness and potential threat to online speech. The bill, introduced by Michael McCaul, would allow the Biden administration to ban TikTok nationwide under the IEEPA.
TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, are specifically named in the bill, and penalties may be imposed, including a potential ban, if they are found to have knowingly transferred user data to any foreign person under the Chinese government’s influence. The vote is scheduled for Tuesday. The White House has 30 days to ban TikTok on government devices.
The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill that would give the government more power to restrict data flow to and from foreign countries, including companies like TikTok. If passed, the bill would allow sanctions against companies that help China engage in surveillance, hacking, censorship, or intelligence gathering.
The bill would also weaken a 35-year-old law that prohibited the U.S. government from restricting the flow of “informational materials” to foreign countries, allowing the government to impose restrictions on the international data flow. The bill specifies that “sensitive personal data” does not qualify for protection under the 35-year-old law, the Berman Amendment to IEEPA.
U.S. lawmakers have passed new legislation reflecting their concerns that TikTok or ByteDance, the parent company, could potentially share the personal information of U.S. users with the Chinese government. Officials have expressed fears that China may use the data to launch targeted misinformation campaigns or gain access to intelligence targets.
In response, TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter has urged the Biden administration to finalize a proposed national security deal to address these concerns.
According to Oberwetter, more than 100 million Americans are TikTok users who love the app. He believes it would be unfortunate if the House Foreign Affairs Committee censors millions of Americans based on a fundamental misunderstanding of TikTok’s corporate structure rather than actual intelligence. He clarifies that TikTok Inc. is a U.S. company bound by U.S. law and has invested two years and $1.5 billion in securing the U.S. version of the platform above and beyond existing laws.
However, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the legislation on Monday, stating it is vague and overbroad. They also accused lawmakers of rushing the bill to a committee vote within days of its introduction without holding a hearing on the proposal.
The ACLU has expressed concern that the proposed legislation restricting access to a particular social media platform could potentially violate the First Amendment rights of Americans to express themselves freely. The bill outlines penalties and limitations that could be imposed on any U.S. citizen who transfers sensitive personal data to a foreign person subject to Chinese jurisdiction or influence.
However, the ACLU argues that phrases such as “may be facilitating” or “subject to the influence of China” are too vague and could be interpretedbroadly, putting innocent economic activities at risk and exposing Americans to legal jeopardy.
In a letter addressed to Rep. Gregory Meeks and McCaul, the ranking Democrat on the committee, the ACLU raised these concerns.
“It appears that the ACLU has raised concerns about a proposed legislation that includes the term “subject to the influence of China” without providing a clear definition. The letter questions how the term would be interpreted and applied in practice, giving examples such as the CEO’s connections to China or leisure travel there.”
Additionally, the ACLU is critical of the bill’s proposed changes to the Berman Amendment, which could negatively affect access to international books, movies, and artwork in the U.S.