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TikTok says US House bill that could ban apps would ‘trample’ freedom of speech

Vaseline 2 months ago

WASHINGTON, April 22 — TikTok yesterday reiterated its free speech concerns over a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would ban the popular social media app in the US if Chinese owner ByteDance does not sell its stake within a year.

The House passed the legislation on Saturday by a 360-58 margin. It now moves to the Senate, where it could be voted on in the coming days. President Joe Biden has previously said he would sign the legislation on TikTok.

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Many U.S. lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties and the Biden administration say TikTok poses national security risks because China could force the company to share the data of its 170 million U.S. users.

The move to include TikTok in a broader foreign aid package could accelerate the timeline for a potential ban after an earlier separate bill stalled in the Senate.

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian aid to push through yet another ban bill that would trample the freedom of expression of 170 million Americans,” TikTok said in a statement.

TikTok had criticized the original bill in February, which ultimately stalled in the Senate, saying it would “censor millions of Americans.” It had similarly argued that a state ban on TikTok in Montana passed last year violated the First Amendment.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposed the House bill on freedom of speech grounds. TikTok insists it has never shared U.S. data and never would.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that TikTok could be used as a propaganda tool by the Chinese government, noting that “a lot of young people” use TikTok to get news.

“The idea that we would give the Communist Party such a major propaganda tool, as well as the ability to collect the personal data of 170 million Americans, is a national security risk,” he told CBS News.

Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, a free speech advocacy group, said the latest bill “doesn’t bear any real fruit” because China and other U.S. rivals can still buy U.S. data from brokers on the open market and may engage in disinformation campaigns using US-based social media platforms.

Some Democrats have also raised free speech concerns about a ban and have instead called for stricter data privacy legislation.

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna told ABC News on Sunday that he believed a TikTok ban might not survive legal scrutiny in the courts, citing the Constitution’s free speech protections.

The House voted on March 13 to give ByteDance about six months to divest TikTok’s U.S. assets or face a ban.

The legislation passed Saturday provides for a nine-month deadline that can be extended by three months if the president wishes to determine progress toward a sale.

Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, voiced her support for the latest bill. She had previously asked the House to review some details in the March 13 bill.

TikTok was also the subject of discussion during a phone call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month. Biden expressed concerns about the app’s ownership. – Reuters