White House backs bipartisan bill that could ban TikTok

The White House backed a bipartisan bill that could give the president the authority to ban or compel the sale of TikTok, the support that could accelerate its passage and how to handle privacy concerns around the popular Chinese-owned app can break the deadlock on this.

Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, are among the co-sponsors of the legislation. The bill introduced Tuesday would give the president the ability to compel the sale of foreign-owned technologies, applications, software or e-commerce platforms if they present a national security threat to US users.

It does not name Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd’s TikTok, but the video-sharing app, which has about 100 million users in the US, is an obvious target.

In a statement, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, “We look forward to continuing to work with both Democrats and Republicans on this bill and urge Congress to act quickly to send it to the President’s desk.” “

It is the first time the Biden administration has weighed legislation to deal with the app, which the White House has described as a national security risk. Warner and his co-sponsors worked closely with the administration for months before introducing the bill.

Read also: US House bans TikTok on all government-issued devices

A bill like Warner’s could solve a major dilemma for the Biden administration. For months, the administration has been trying to come to a national-security agreement with TikTok that would limit China’s access to US user data. But the process has stalled amid concerns that it does not adequately address the risks it poses.

New equipment’

“These risks are not going away and unfortunately our tools to date are limited,” Warner said at a briefing on Tuesday. “We’re going to have a new group of officers.”

TikTok’s opponents in Congress have rejected the company’s assurances that its Chinese owner does not have access to US user data, including viewing patterns and geolocations. In addition, reports that TikTok promotes or hides some content have raised questions about whether Chinese authorities can influence the content seen by US users.

The bill would still need to go through a Senate committee, and it’s unclear where the measure ranks among Chuck Schumer’s priorities. As Senate majority leader, he determines whether it will come to the floor for a vote. But anti-China sentiment crosses party lines in Congress, and senators from both parties said Tuesday they are united on the issue.

“We are very united on this issue,” Senator Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, told reporters. He said the US needed to “bring together all aspects of American power and policy” to challenge China.

The growing response has made TikTok an all-round attraction globally for months. In a bid to drum up goodwill in Washington and defend its data protection and content moderation policies, officials have enlisted a star-studded group of lobbyists to engage with more than 100 congressional offices. In the second quarter of last year, TikTok spent $2.1 million on lobbying on issues including children’s privacy, content moderation and antitrust, its highest ever.

TikTok has unveiled a security plan called Project Texas that vows to protect the company’s US operations from Chinese influence. The plan includes an independent board of directors to oversee data security, third-party vetting and a partnership with Oracle Corporation to store user data and audit the platform’s algorithms.

“The goal here is to have massive oversight,” Will Farrell, who leads TikTok’s US data security team, told a conference in Washington on Monday. “So you don’t have to take our word for it.”

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