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U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced Sunday that lawmakers would advance legislation proposing a nationwide ban on TikTok after the video-sharing app’s CEO testified before Congress last week.
House Energy and Commerce Committee officials called on TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew to testify before the panel over their national security threats, data privacy, and safety issues for the app’s 150 million American users.
During the hearing, Chew neglected to answer whether individuals associated with ByteDance, the social media platform’s Chinese parent company, helped him prepare for the hearing. Lawmakers further pressed Chew asking if the app has spied on Americans at the request of Bejing, which the CEO denied.
“It’s very concerning that the CEO of TikTok can’t be honest and admit what we already know to be true—China has access to TikTok user data,” McCarthy wrote in a tweet. “The House will be moving forward with legislation to protect Americans from the technological tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party.”
It's very concerning that the CEO of TikTok can't be honest and admit what we already know to be true—China has access to TikTok user data.
The House will be moving forward with legislation to protect Americans from the technological tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party.
— Kevin McCarthy (@SpeakerMcCarthy) March 26, 2023
McCarthy has previously signaled he would support a nationwide ban on TikTok as both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have raised concerns over allegations that the Chinese Communist Party has access to user data through links between TikTok and ByteDance, as well as the extent to which authorities in China maintain power and influence over both entities.
“I think you see a bipartisan concern here with what’s happening on TikTok, especially what’s happening to the data for Americans,” McCarthy told The Hill. “There’s many different ramifications here, so I think they could come together and let the committees do their work and see what the product comes out when it gets done.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), the chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, told ABC News on Sunday that Chew’s appearance in Congress “actually increased the likelihood that Congress will take some action.”
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) said Chew’s testimony to Congress failed to help TikTok’s alleged threat to national security.
“TikTok did itself no favors on Thursday when CEO Shou Zi Chew gave his testimony,” Krishnamoorthi wrote in a tweet. “In fact, some of the answers he gave only raised more questions about the enormous existing security risks I’ve been fighting to address.”
Some officials have called for a wholesale ban on TikTok, while others have asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a board that evaluates the national security implications of international investments, to force a divestiture from ByteDance.
TikTok committed — in one recent proposal called Project Texas — to spend $1.5 billion protecting user data and ensuring that Chinese officials cannot access user information; the CFIUS has reportedly rejected the proposal.
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) told CBS News’ “Face The Nation” on Sunday that he believes White House officials support the RESTRICT Act, a bill he co-sponsored that would give the Commerce Department authority to either ban TikTok or force its sale.
The bill, which has bipartisan support from 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans, would give the government authority to “address possible threats posed by technologies affiliated with foreign governments by giving the Commerce Department authority to review or ban them entirely,” CBS reported.
“I think the White House is very in favor of this bill,” Warner told CBS. “We give the secretary of Commerce the tools to ban, to force a sale, other tools.”
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told the outlet in a separate interview the Biden administration has already endorsed the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act, which he said would give President Biden “additional tools and authorities” to regulate TikTok.
“The president’s already said we absolutely have national security concerns about that application, and he’s banned it from government devices,” Kirby said.
President Joe Biden and several state officials have banned TikTok from government devices over data security and surveillance concerns after reports indicated that ByteDance staffers in China used the platform to monitor the locations of specific American users.
He said that the committee on Foreign Investment officials has been conducting an ongoing review, which examines the potential security risks.
Ben Zeisloft contributed to this report