TikTok condemns U.S. House Bill threatening ban, cites free speech concerns

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22nd April 2024 – (Washington) TikTok has reiterated its stance on free speech following the passage of a bill by the U.S. House of Representatives that could lead to the banning of the app unless its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, divests its stake within a year. The legislation, which saw a significant majority vote of 360 to 58, is now poised for a Senate decision in the near future. President Joe Biden has signalled his willingness to sign the bill into law.

The bipartisan support for the bill underscores widespread concerns among U.S. legislators and the Biden administration regarding national security risks. These anxieties are rooted in fears that the Chinese government could potentially access the personal data of TikTok’s 170 million American users.

TikTok, in a recent statement, expressed disappointment over the House’s decision to push the bill as part of a broader foreign aid package, suggesting that it compromises the free speech rights of millions of Americans. The platform had previously criticised similar legislative efforts, including a state-level ban in Montana, as unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also voiced opposition to the bill on grounds of free speech.

Meanwhile, TikTok maintains that it has not, and would not, share U.S. user data with any government, including China.

The debate over TikTok’s future in the U.S. is intensified by comments from key political figures, such as Democratic Senator Mark Warner, who raised concerns on CBS News about the potential misuse of TikTok for propaganda by the Chinese government and the security implications of data access.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University argued that the bill might not effectively counteract threats as foreign adversaries can still procure American data through other channels.

Amid these discussions, some Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Ro Khanna, have suggested that the focus should rather be on robust data privacy laws than on banning specific platforms, questioning the potential constitutional challenges such a ban could face.