Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Sunday that his chamber would be moving forward with legislation to ban the controversial video app TikTok.
The move was expected after testimony from Singapore-based TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi before members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday failed to convince lawmakers that TikTok had separated from its China-based parent company ByteDance and wouldn’t pose a national security risk.
At one point, when asked if ByteDance’s engineers in China have access to the data of American users, Chew couldn’t give a simple “no” assurance, and replied: “It’s a complex subject.”
He then said that while currently some U.S. users’ data remains overseas, TikTok has launched data security efforts under the name “Project Texas” as it works to migrate U.S. user data to storage by Oracle Corp. in Texas.
“It’s very concerning that the CEO of TikTok can’t be honest and admit what we already know to be true—China has access to TikTok user data,” McCarthy wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
“The House will be moving forward with legislation to protect Americans from the technological tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party.”
TikTok has already been banned by the federal and multiple state governments from government devices in December after ByteDance admitted that some of its China-based employees had accessed TikTok data to monitor and track the physical location of journalists.
These admissions, as well as warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies, prompted the Biden administration to demand earlier this month that ByteDance sell its stakes in the company or face a likely nationwide ban in the United States.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday, following Chew’s testimony, that the Biden administration remained concerned about TikTok’s “well-established” threats to national security over data security and content manipulations.
“We are also concerned that the PRC could require ByteDance to censor certain contexts of TikTok or spread information that undermines U.S. national security.”
Over 150 million Americans, mostly youth, actively use the video app, while TikTok has approximately 1 billion users worldwide.
The White House is currently in negotiations with ByteDance over a sale, and is supporting Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-Va.) legislation called the RESTRICT Act (S. 686) for a potential ban of TikTok by the Department of Commerce. The bill also includes other communications measures related to national security.
Closer to a Ban
The chair of the House select committee on U.S. competition with China, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), said that lawmakers were actually closer to enforcing a ban or forced sale thanks to Chew’s concerning testimony.
“They’ve actually united Republicans and Democrats out of the concern of allowing the [Chinese Communist Party] to control the most dominant media platform in America,” he told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday.
“TikTok did itself no favors on Thursday when CEO Shou Zi Chew gave his testimony,” committee ranking member Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) wrote on Twitter. “In fact, some of the answers he gave only raised more questions about the enormous existing security risks I’ve been fighting to address.”
The Great Translation Movement, which monitors media reports in both the English and Chinese languages for differences and disinformation campaigns, pointed out that Chew was not being transparent with Congress in his testimony.
Chew, 40, had testified in a five-hour long session that “ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government.”
But the movement noted that the spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Commerce had already declared in response to Biden’s demand that ByteDance sell TikTok that such an action must first get approval from the CCP.
This news actually validate the concern of the congress. Tiktok also did a marvelous job of disinformation on the uninformed Tiktok users that the congress only want to bully Tiktok cos of their success. #大翻译运动#TheGreatTranslationMovement #大翻譯運動 pic.twitter.com/iqk0OGToFq
— The Great Translation Movement 大翻译运动官方推号 (@TGTM_Official) March 27, 2023
Chew had also asserted that ByteDance “is a private company.”
China observers and lawmakers have repeatedly noted that so-called “private companies” in China ultimately remain under the control of the CCP, due to China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, which requires all entities and citizens to “support, assist, and co-operate with the state intelligence work.”
The law was a major factor driving governments around the world to place bans on Chinese telecommunications companies like Huawei and ZTE getting contracts to participate in new 5G networks.
“ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, is a private company, but refusing control from the Chinese government might not be a safe option for the company’s China-based executives, given the government’s track record of punishing the country’s business executives for not toeing the party line,” Yaqiu Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a column for The Hill.
The movement also noted that to accompany Chew’s testimony, Tiktok was pushing out disinformation to “uninformed Tiktok users that the Congress only want to bully Tiktok cos [sic] of their success.”
Battle to Control Information
Much of TikTok’s own discussion around risks has been focused on data privacy issues, with the company saying it is already addressing further data security issues in its initiative called “Project Texas,” in which TikTok’s U.S. user data is being migrated and contained to Texas-based data storage.
But the more significant concern is the utility of TikTok to be used by the CCP to influence the narratives that Americans are exposed to, Gallagher said.
He noted that the biggest concern was over who has control over information.
“The key part that’s missing from Project Texas’ mitigation strategy is control of the algorithm. That’s really what we need to address,” he said. “It’s not just exfiltrating data from an American phone, it’s what they’re able to push to Americans through the algorithm—control our sense of reality, control the news, meddle in future elections.”
Ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) agreed, saying that despite all the promises to give U.S. company Oracle in Texas the ability to access TikTok’s algorithms for inspection: “I still believe that the Beijing Communist government will still control and have the ability to influence what you do. So this idea, this Project Texas, is simply not acceptable.”
Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University, told “Real Time With Bill Maher” on Friday night that TikTok was a defense threat that “should absolutely be banned.”
“Well, imagine a brain jack inserted into the neural network of two-thirds of our youth under the age of 25, who spend more time on TikTok than every other media source combined. And then imagine how easy with would be to put your thumb on the scale of anti-American content and recognise that they would be stupid not to elegantly, insidiously, covertly, raise a generation of American civic, non-profit, military, and government leaders who, day-by-day, minute-by-minute, just feel a little [expletive] about America. If we had that tool in China, we would do the exact same thing.”
Chew himself noted in his testimony that TikTok is not available to users in mainland China.
People in China can only use a CCP-approved version of TikTok called Douyin, which is heavily censored. The CCP also maintains its great firewall to control all information people can access and engage with inside China.
David Stilwell, retired brigadier general and former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told NTD’s China in Focus on Friday that the situation with Douyin and TikTok was “a juxtaposition of our wide-open democratic system being abused by a communist, controlling authoritiarian system.”
In this special episode, we sat down with David Stilwell. He sheds light on the #TikTok hearing, whether it’s for entertainment or for #Warfare, and how to understand the #ChineseCommunistParty more broadly.https://t.co/HvtVm0EJOP pic.twitter.com/EdhTk2YkW3
— China in Focus – NTD (@ChinaInFocusNTD) March 26, 2023
“Beijing is angry at the U.S. for wanting to ban TikTok on national security grounds, meanwhile, TikTok is banned in China,” China analyst Antonio Graceffo said on Twitter.
While TikTok has denied it has censored information upon request by the CCP, critics of the CCP say otherwise.
Former NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom, who was dropped by the league for refusing to stay silent on the CCP’s human rights abuses, had his TikTok account banned for 12 days. The ban was lifted without explanation on the day of Chew’s testimony.
Freedom said he had appealed the unexplained ban but was told his account would not be restored. A TikTok representative later said the ban was made in error by the company’s U.S.-based moderators.
Robert Potter, co-chief executive of Australian cybersecurity and intelligence firm Internet 2.0, said on Twitter, “Kanter wasn’t banned because he criticized the U.S. congress…. But TikTok still says it doesn’t censor democratic political speech.
Potter pointed out that TikTok has a history of lying about its capabilities. “It looks bad for TikTok because they are not being open about what they do. They keep getting caught lying.”
Internet 2.0 recently released a white paper on TikTok, called “It’s their word against their source code,” in which researchers said they had cracked TikTok’s source code and found evidence of “excessive data collection of TikTok and that the app connects to mainland China based infrastructure.”
“We note that we put all of our research to TikTok for comment and verification. They refused to go on the record about the details of their China based infrastructure,” the report said.
From The Epoch Times