A new bill would give United States President Joe Biden the power to outright ban TikTok, a move that the American Civil Liberties Union says would violate free speech rights.
TikTok, which is owned and operated by China-based Bytdance, has faced multiple threats of a widespread ban over the past several years. Recently, government agencies in both Europe and the United States have banned the app’s use on official devices due to concerns of spying by the Chinese government but to date, there has been no action taken against the app for the average person in these areas.
That could change as a new law introduced last Friday and fast-tracked for a vote today has passed the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee 24 to 16. All democrats voted “no” to the bill, TechCrunch reports. The law, called the Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries (DATA) Act, would give President Biden the ability to outright ban TikTok.
While it has passed through the House committee, it wouldn’t get to President Biden’s desk until it passes the Senate and the rest of the House — a situation with an unlikely outcome given committee democrats’ opposition to the bill.
TikTok has repeatedly stated that Chinese government officials don’t have access to American user data, but given the overreaching influence of the Chinese Communist Party, global government agencies tend not to be swayed. Given that ByteDance operates inside of China, government officials could theoretically force the company to share that data whether it wants to or not. Adding to these concerns is that despite ByteDance’s assistance that it holds American user data separately, an investigation last year showed engineers in China had access to that data as recently as January 2022. In December, the app company admitted it spied on U.S. journalists.
Despite all these concerns, the ACLU argues that TikTok shouldn’t be banned and has urged Congress not to take that action against the China-based social media company. In a letter to lawmakers, the ACLU argues that a broad ban would likely result in language that would affect other businesses and applications, resulting in a violation of the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans.
The letter addresses the specific bill that was passed by the House committee today.
“Before addressing substantive concerns, we have to raise the problem of the committee not following regular order on a bill that would violate the constitutional rights of all Americans. Despite this legislation’s sweeping First Amendment implications, it was scheduled for markup without first holding a hearing,” the ACLU writes.
“Moreover, the bill text and notice of the markup was not available online until just two calendar days (not business days) before the scheduled markup. There was no meaningful opportunity for interested stakeholders to share the implications of this legislation with members of the committee. We urge the committee to reschedule this markup after it has held a hearing on the matter.”
The ACLU says that just as it noted when then-President Trump first tried to ban TikTok nationally, selective bans of entire platforms “could cut off the flow of information, art, and communication that social media provides, interfering with communities and connections users in the United States have with each other and with people around the world. This interference with freedom of expression and association violates the First Amendment.”
Despite the risks, the ACLU says that Americans have the right to use TikTok and other platforms to exchange thoughts, ideas, and opinions with people around the world.
“The ACLU strongly urges you to oppose the bill and support our constitutional right to express ourselves — both online and off.”
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