Republican lawmakers asked President Joe Biden to force a divestiture of TikTok to an American firm after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) concluded that the social media platform poses meaningful national security risks.
CFIUS, a board composed of nine cabinet-level officials who weigh the national security implications of international investments, recently ordered ByteDance, the Chinese technology firm which owns TikTok, to sell the platform or face a nationwide ban. The agency initially concluded after a national security review in 2020 that TikTok could “impair the national security of the United States,” a revelation that nearly prompted former President Donald Trump to ban the platform via executive order.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Scott (R-SC) and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) said in a Friday letter to the White House that the findings should be enforced as concerns over the platform continue to surface. “We urge you to stand up to China and enforce this directive now. Congress stands ready to support you in doing so,” the lawmakers wrote. “However, in the absence of decisive presidential action, Congress will take the steps necessary to address the national security risks presented by TikTok.”
Scott and McHenry added that the current administration “already possesses the existing authorities necessary to address the national security issues” as a result of the review.
“As public servants, we bear a profound responsibility to protect the well-being of future generations by mitigating potential hazards. In the digital realm, this entails equipping users with the knowledge required to navigate online risks,” the letter continued. “We must empower parents with the tools to effectively monitor and comprehend their child’s online activities without compromising their child’s future.”
Another letter issued in March by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) urged Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to force the divestment of TikTok from ByteDance. The lawmakers referenced the CFIUS requiring that Beijing Kunlun Company divest itself of the dating site Grindr and healthcare platform PatientsLikeMe under the Trump administration.
ByteDance acknowledged at the end of last year that staff members had “spied on the private data of journalists and others in order identify sources behind articles critical of the company.” The revelation confirmed an earlier report from Forbes which indicated that ByteDance planned to track the location of specific American citizens.
Brooke Oberwetter, a spokeswoman for TikTok, said in reference to the divestiture order imposed earlier this year, which appears to remain unenforced, that divestment would not “solve the problem” of safeguarding national security since “a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access.”
Beyond the national security concerns, some lawmakers have drawn attention to the censorship practices implemented by TikTok and asserted that the company allows members of the Chinese Communist Party to access user data. Shou Zi Chew, the chief executive of TikTok, likewise insisted in his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee two months ago that a forced sale of TikTok to an American company would not resolve the issues.
“I am well aware that the fact that ByteDance has Chinese founders has prompted concerns that our platform could be used as or become a tool of China or the Chinese Communist Party,” the executive remarked. “Divestment doesn’t address the fundamental concerns that I have heard, as a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access. This is not an issue of nationality.”