US House lawmakers introduce bill to ban ‘foreign adversary controlled’ apps, including TikTok News
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US House lawmakers introduce bill to ban ‘foreign adversary controlled’ apps, including TikTok

US lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced a bill on Tuesday aimed at curbing the influence of social media apps controlled by the US’s foreign adversaries, such as TikTok, which is owned by China-based ByteDance. The bill, Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, comes amid increasing concern from US lawmakers over the lack of privacy protections on the apps, leading to the potential for the Chinese government to access American users data.

The proposed bill is a bipartisan initiative, meaning it is supported by both Democrat and Republican lawmakers. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), who both serve on the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, co-authored the bill.

Under the new bill, the distribution, maintenance, and update of any app controlled by a “foreign adversary” within the US will be prohibited. According to the bill, the term “foreign adversary controlled application” includes any “website, desktop application, mobile application, or augmented or immersive technology application that is operated, directly or indirectly” controlled by a foreign adversary to the US. The bill also specifically names and targets applications owned by ByteDance, such as the popular social media app TikTok.

Any entity found to be in violation of the bill faces a potential civil fine of $5,000, multiplied by the number of US users of the app. Further penalties are outlined for data and information violations as well.

In addition to the restrictions laid out in the bill, the bill also mandates that ByteDance must relinquish its ownership of TikTok within 165 days. Failure to comply will result in TikTok being effectively removed from US app stores and denied access to web-hosting services across the country, effectively crippling the app’s operation in the US market. This portion of the bill is aimed at mitigating the concerns over American data privacy and national security.

Krishnamoorthi emphasized the urgency of taking action against ByteDance in a statement:

So long as it is owned by ByteDance and thus required to collaborate with the [Chinese Communist Party], TikTok poses critical threats to our national security. Our bipartisan legislation would protect American social media users by driving the divestment of foreign adversary-controlled apps to ensure that Americans are protected from the digital surveillance and influence operations of regimes that could weaponize their personal data against them.

However, there are a series of laws in China that may complicate any potential divestment from ByteDance. China’s National Security Law, the Export Control Law, and the Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law could all pose obstacles to any forced sale of TikTok.

Further, the Chinese government revised the Catalog of Prohibited or Restricted Technology Exports in 2020, to include “recommendation algorithms” as technology restricted from export. This inclusion means that the sale of TikTok could involve the transfer of such sensitive technology, potentially violating Chinese laws.

On Wednesday, TikTok responded critically to the newly introduced bill, asserting:

This bill is an outright ban of TikTok, no matter how much the authors try to disguise it. This legislation will trample the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform they rely on to grow and create jobs.