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  • Writer's pictureSean Behling

TikTok CEO Testifies Before Congress In Face of Nationwide Ban

Cover photo courtesy of Tom Williams on Wikimedia Commons

On Thursday, March 23rd, TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified in a congressional hearing regarding the danger that TikTok poses to digital privacy. As a potential nationwide ban for the app looms on the horizon, the hearing has some lawmakers even more convinced that a ban is necessary, while others argue that a broader bill to protect national data privacy is necessary.

The concerns seem to arise from TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance Ltd. Because ByteDance is based in Beijing, western governments worry that Chinese authorities could force ByteDance to hand over data on American users, possibly exposing sensitive information. According to ABC News, “China's 2017 National Intelligence Law states that ‘any organization’ must assist or cooperate with state intelligence work.” A separate 2014 Counter-Espionage Law also says that “relevant organizations ... may not refuse" to collect evidence for an investigation. Because of these laws, government officials worry that when pressured by the Chinese Government, ByteDance would hand over any sensitive data it gained access to through TikTok.

The United States is not alone in its concerns. Countries like France have already gone through the effort of banning TikTok from the devices of government officials in order to ensure data security. The United States, likewise, has banned the application from government-issued devices but is now looking to enact a nationwide ban.

House Representative from Wisconsin, Mike Gallagher, told ABC News that not only has Chew’s testimony actually increased the likelihood that Congress will take action, but that it “actually united Republicans and Democrats out of the concern of allowing the [Chinese Communist Party] to control the most dominant media platform in America."

According to The Hill, other Representatives, such as Jamaal Bowman from New York, are pushing back against this ban, stating that a broader piece of legislation is necessary. “To ban TikTok is to put a Band-Aid on maybe a small scab versus what’s happening in the whole social media landscape,” says Bowman.

TikTok users are also pushing back against this legislation, mocking members of Congress for the types of questions that they asked during the hearing, as well as the combative tone that many of them held throughout. According to CNN Business, many of these users believe that members of Congress are detached from technology and even unaware of how American tech companies operate, resulting in what some consider easily mockable questions.

In a message to TikTok users who believe members of Congress are simply out of touch, Representative Dave Crenshaw from Texas said, “You may not care that your data is being accessed now, but it will be one day when you do care about it. And here's the real problem - with data comes power. They can choose what you see and how you see it. They can make you believe things that are not true. They can encourage you to engage in behavior that will destroy your life. Even if it is not happening yet, it could in the future” (NPR).

In order to protect American user data and avoid a nationwide ban, TikTok is planning to store all of the information on American servers in what is called “Project Texas.” It remains to be seen whether or not this plan can alleviate lawmakers’ worries over the safety of American user data.

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