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US Congress to move forward with legislation to ban TikTok

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on TikTok, on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Reuters)

Members of Congress from both parties will move forward with legislation targeting TikTok, describing the Chinese-owned app as a national security threat.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he would support a national ban on TikTok, after US officials alleged that the Chinese government could use its national security laws to pressure TikTok or its Chinese parent ByteDance into handing over the personal information of TikTok users in the United States.

“The House will be moving forward with legislation to protect Americans from the technological tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party,” McCarthy tweeted on Sunday.

There are growing calls to ban TikTok, which has 150 million American users, or to pass bipartisan legislation to give President Joe Biden's administration legal authority to seek a ban.

The Biden administration has threatened to ban TikTok unless the app’s Chinese owners agree to spin off their share of the social media platform.

China responded to the administration’s demand for the first time on Thursday, saying it would “firmly” oppose a forced sale of TikTok.

Legislation targeting the app will likely be a topic of conversation among lawmakers this week.

In a hearing on Thursday, lawmakers from both parties grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about national security and other concerns involving the app.

Chew dismissed allegation that the app has ever spied on Americans at Beijing's request.

Republican Representative Neal Dunn then referenced the company's disclosure in December that some China-based employees at ByteDance, the company that owns the app, improperly accessed TikTok user data of two journalists, and who were no longer employed by the company.

“I don't think that spying is the right way to describe it," Chew said. He went on to describe the reports as involving an "internal investigation" before being cut off.

McCarthy also said, “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."

Representative Mike Gallagher, who is also the Republican chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, said on Sunday that Chew's appearance before Congress "actually increased the likelihood that Congress will take some action.”

Former US President Donald Trump had also threatened to ban TikTok unless it was sold.

The Chinese government, however, has taken legal measures to prevent any divestment without its consent.

Experts and TikTok insiders say Beijing would likely block ByteDance from selling TikTok’s algorithm technology, which has been touted as one of the most advanced uses of artificial intelligence in consumer technology.

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