Wed, 17 April 2024
The Daily Ittefaq

Why US lawmakers want to ban TikTok

Update : 14 Mar 2024, 20:52

For the second time in four years, the popular Chinese shortform video app TikTok is in the crosshairs of lawmakers in the United States. 

Ahead of the 2020 US presidential election, Donald Trump signed an executive order forcing owner ByteDance to sell the app within 90 days, but it failed after legal challenges.

Lawmakers are once again seeking to force the sale of TikTok, threatening a nationwide ban of the app otherwise.

On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives voted 352-65 to force ByteDance to divest of the app within six months or see it barred from the Apple and Google app stores in the United States.

The bill now needs Senate approval to become law.

US President Joe Biden has vowed to sign it if it passes Congress.

Why does the US want to ban TikTok?

Since it was launched in 2016, TikTok has grown to be a hugely popular app, with about 170 million users in the US.

American users spend a considerable amount of time on TikTok — on average 60-to-80 minutes per day, versus about 30-40 minutes on main rival Instagram, according to third-party data.

Intelligence chiefs have warned that TikTok has become a tool of the Chinese government, one that could be used to undermine US democracy.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned this week that China's propaganda arm reportedly targeted Democrat and Republican candidates ahead of the US midterm elections in 2022 and agents fear the app could be used to subvert the presidential election in November.

Under China'se national security laws, the government has the power to force TikTok owner ByteDance to provide access to US user data at any time if required for intelligence gathering.

TikTok has repeatedly said it has never shared US user data with Chinese authorities and will not do so if asked in the future.

The US bill also gives the president the power to designate other apps as national security threats if under the control of a country considered adversarial to the United States.

Do the plans have wide support?

The vote passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives — a rare moment of bipartisanship in politically divided Washington. 

"[The TikTok ban] is one of those rare topics that gets bipartisan support — it's basically a 'tough on China' policy,'" Gene Munster, a managing partner of Deepwater Asset Management, told YouTube followers on Tuesday.

But its fate in the Senate is far from certain, as some lawmakers are loath to ban such a hugely popular app during an election year.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said this week that the goal is ending Chinese ownership — not banning the app. "Do we want TikTok, as a platform, to be owned by an American company or owned by China? Do we want the data from TikTok — children's data, adults’ data -— to be staying here in America or going to China?," Sullivan said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warned in a statement that the ban "would violate the First Amendment rights of hundreds of millions of Americans who use the app to communicate and express themselves daily."

"We're deeply disappointed that our leaders are once again attempting to trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points during an election year," said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at the ACLU.

TikTok users received notifications through the app encouraging them to contact their local representatives to protest against the possible ban, which spurred a flurry of complaints.

The new powers prompted some technology analysts to label the bill a "Trojan horse" as it will allow lawmakers to shut down foreign websites as well as apps.

Others believe that the measure risks alienating young US voters, who are more likely to use TikTok.

The measure is further complicated as Donald Trump has U-turned on his position. While he still thinks TikTok poses a national security risk, he warned that a ban would benefit rival Facebook, which he partly blames for his 2020 election loss. 

How would ByteDance, China respond to a ban?

Bloomberg News reported Wednesday that, if the bill passes, ByteDance has vowed to exhaust all legal challenges before it considers selling the app. The business publication cited people familiar with the matter as saying that divestment was deemed to be a last resort for the firm.

"This latest legislation, being rushed through at unprecedented speed, without even the benefit of a public hearing, poses serious Constitutional concerns," Michael Beckerman, TikTok's vice president for public policy, wrote in a letter to the bill's co-sponsors.

China's government warned Wednesday that a ban would "inevitably come back to bite the United States," without giving any further details.

"Although the United States has never found evidence that TikTok threatens US national security, it has not stopped suppressing TikTok," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

"This kind of bullying behavior that cannot win in fair competition disrupts companies' normal business activity, damages the confidence of international investors in the investment environment, and damages the normal international economic and trade order," he added.

During the US-China trade war, Beijing has often responded to curbs placed by Washington with tit-for-tat measures.

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