By Emel Akan
WASHINGTON—The White House has reversed direction this week, saying it would support a Senate bill that would outlaw TikTok in the United States.
The Biden administration had been at a standstill for two years over how to deal with the threat to national security posed by the Chinese-owned mobile app.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday welcomed a bipartisan bill that would allow the Biden administration to ban the video-sharing app.
“This legislation would empower the United States government to prevent certain foreign governments from exploiting technology services operating in the United States in a way that poses risks to Americans’ sensitive data and our national security,” he said in a statement.
“We look forward to continue working with both Democrats and Republicans on this bill, and urge Congress to act quickly to send it to the President’s desk.”
On Tuesday, Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced the measure called the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act. The bipartisan bill is the most recent proposal that seeks to fully outlaw the app due to mounting concerns that it could be used to spy on Americans.
Last week, a Republican-sponsored bill with similar goals passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on a party-line vote.
For the past two years, the Biden administration has been trying to find ways to address the threat posed by TikTok—the most popular mobile app among teens in the country with roughly 100 million monthly active users.
In December 2022, President Joe Biden signed legislation prohibiting federal workers from using TikTok on government devices. In addition, at least 30 states have taken action against the popular app, either by prohibiting its use on government devices or by bringing lawsuits.
However, critics of China’s ruling communist party (CCP) in Congress have long argued that TikTok should be completely banned in the United States.
Fears that the app’s Chinese owner, Beijing-based ByteDance, has access to personal information about millions of American users are behind the current backlash against TikTok. Critics say the CCP may compel ByteDance to give over information on American users.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency government panel, has been investigating TikTok for more than two years to determine whether China’s access to sensitive user data poses a risk to national security.
As part of the investigation, the Biden administration reportedly looked into ways to force the sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations. However, there were opposing viewpoints within the administration, causing a stalemate, as the Wall Street Journal reported late last year.
Former President Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok through an executive order in his final months in office, but his order was overturned by several federal courts. After taking office, Biden reversed Trump’s executive order. Biden proposed using an “evidence-based approach” to determine whether TikTok was a real threat to U.S. national security.
‘Very Insidious’ App
The average American user spends 80 minutes per day on TikTok, which is more than the time spent on Facebook and Instagram combined.
According to Arthur Herman, a senior fellow and director of the Quantum Alliance Initiative at the Hudson Institute, TikTok’s algorithm allows it to entice its users in a controlling manner and is responsible for the app’s phenomenal success.
Built by engineers at the parent company, the algorithm is “incredibly sophisticated,” he told The Epoch Times in an interview in January.
“It’s a lot more sophisticated than anything American engineers have done in platforms like Facebook, or Twitter, or even Google,” he noted.
But it’s also “very insidious” and that’s why it should be banned altogether, Herman claimed.
The White House declined to answer questions about why the administration decided that now was the time for legislative action and whether it was frustrated by the ongoing negotiations between TikTok and CFIUS.
“We have said we have concerns with this particular app, TikTok,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday.
“And we’ve always said protecting Americans—especially as it relates to national security—is a priority for this President. And that’s what you’re seeing. You know, CFIUS is doing its review. There’s bipartisanship in Congress. And I think that’s an important way to move forward.”