TikTok data gathering charges applicable to US big tech: US senator
The Republican Senator criticizes the government's data-gathering accusations against the Chinese social media app and calls the ban on TikTok a "relinquish of American's liberties."
Accusations directed toward TikTok of harvesting user data could be made to all US big tech firms, and banning the Chinese social media giant undermines America's free speech values, US Republican Senator Rand Paul said on Thursday according to a Reuters report.
"I think we should beware of those who use fear to coax Americans to relinquish our liberties," Paul told the Senate. "Every accusation of data gathering that has been attributed to TikTok could also be attributed to domestic big tech companies."
Paul's remarks came to criticize the government's recent crackdown on the platform which has almost 150 million American active users after Republican Senator Josh Hawley attempted to pass a ban bill on the media platform through unanimous consent.
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"It protects the American people and it sends a message to Communist China that you cannot buy us," Hawley said, further claiming that the app is spying on American citizens.
"If Republicans want to continuously lose elections for a generation they should pass this bill to ban TikTok -- a social media app used by 150 million people, primarily young Americans," Paul continued. "Do we really want to emulate Chinese speech bans?... We're going to be just like China and ban speech we're afraid of?"
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said last week he expects the house will take up a bill to address TikTok, but the timing is unclear. It is also not clear what a final bill to address TikTok might look like.
He also said on Sunday that lawmakers will move forward with legislation to address security concerns regarding the video-sharing app, over claims that the app gives the Chinese government user information.
The legislation received a few - but growing - bipartisan objections over banning the app, citing contradiction to free speech values and stating that the bill is broad.
In 2020, former US President Donald Trump lost a series of court rulings back when he wanted to ban TikTok and WeChat, raising the same concerns.
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TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew argued before a US House Committee for five hours last Thursday to convince lawmakers that the company does not give the Chinese government the personal data of users, as confirmed by the Chinese government itself.
Chew declines any allegations which presume that the app had ever spied on Americans at Beijing's request.
The legislation "would basically be a limitless authority for the president to ban speech," Paul said, in reference to US President Joe Biden's ultimatums to ByteDance to either sell TikTok's shares to a domestic firm or face an American ban.
Three Democrats in the House of Representatives announced their opposition to the ban last week, in addition to several NGOs, such as American Civil Liberties Union.
Cosponsored by 22 senators and proposed by Republican Senator John Thune and Democrat Senator Mark Warner, a bill was drafted which constitutes giving the Commerce Department authority to impose restrictions against technologies that allegedly pose national security threats, including TikTok and other technologies from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba.
However, the document was opposed by a growing number of Republicans, including former Representative Justin Amash, who said that the "RESTRICT Act isn’t about banning TikTok; it’s about controlling you. It gives broad powers to the executive branch, with few checks, and will be abused in every way you can imagine."
A spokesperson for Senator Warner said, "To be extremely clear, this legislation is aimed squarely at companies like Kaspersky, Huawei and TikTok that create systemic risks to the United States’ national security – not at individual users."
US claims 'unreasonable suppression'
On its part, China confirmed last Friday that it does not ask companies to hand over information gathered overseas,
China "has never and will not require companies or individuals to collect or provide data located in a foreign country, in a way that violates local law," Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular briefing.
She said the Chinese government "attaches great importance to protecting data privacy."
"The US government has so far not provided any evidence that TikTok poses a threat to its national security, but instead has repeatedly made presumptions of guilt and unreasonable suppression" against the company, Mao added.
"We have also noted that some in the US congress stated that seeking a ban of TikTok is a xenophobic political persecution," she said.