House panel to debate bill allowing president to ban TikTok

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A bill that would allow the president to ban TikTok will be marked up by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

The committee will debate the proposal Tuesday afternoon, following a separately scheduled hearing about combatting Chinese “aggression” in the tech and economic sector.

The proposed bill, the latest to hit Congress with the goal of banning TikTok, was introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) last week. It follows a Republican bicameral bill to ban TikTok introduced last month by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.).

McCaul’s proposal, the Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries Act, would adjust the Berman amendments, according to a GOP aide.

The amendments are a more than three-decades old exception to the International Emergency Powers Act. That limits the president’s authority to regulate informational materials under the act and aims to promote the free exchange of ideas across nations.

McCaul’s bill seeks to clarify the exemption so that it does not apply to “sensitive personal data,” making software applications like TikTok, owned by Chinese-based ByteDance, potentially eligible to be banned.

News of the scheduled mark up was first reported by Punchbowl News reporter John Bresnahan on Twitter.

“My bill empowers the administration to ban TikTok or any software applications that threaten U.S. national security. And make no mistake — TikTok is a security threat,” McCaul said in a statement. “Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the CCP a backdoor to all their personal information. It’s a spy balloon into your phone.”

Some members oppose this version of a TikTok ban

In a statement tweeted by Bresnahan, a Democratic spokesperson said House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) is opposed to the bill.

“Ranking Member Meeks is willing to work in a bipartisan way to address cybersecurity threats posed by Chinese firms under the influence of the PRC and is continuing to negotiate with Chairman McCaul at this very minute,” the spokesperson said. “Unfortunately, Mr. McCaul’s hastily introduced legislation would result in sanctions on companies allied in countries in Europe and Asia.”

The spokesperson added that Meeks would like to see what comes from the administration’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the  United States (CFIUS) review before “taking the unprecedented step of banning an app used by more than 100 million Americans.”

President Joe Biden ordered CFIUS to review TikTok in June 2021, after he withdrew executive orders issued under former President Trump to ban downloads of the app in the U.S. Few details have emerged about the administration’s review in the time since.

TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said it would be “unfortunate” if the committee were to “censor millions of Americans” based on “a basic misunderstanding of our corporate structure.”

“TikTok Inc. is a U.S. company bound by U.S. law, and we are two years and $1.5 billion dollars deep into a project to go above and beyond existing law to secure the U.S. version of the TikTok platform. The swiftest and most thorough way to address national security concerns is for CFIUS to adopt the proposed agreement that we worked with them on for nearly two years,” Oberwetter said.

TikTok has said it is not a national security threat

Oberwetter has previously pushed back on allegations that TikTok poses a national security threat, which is the basis of the GOP push to ban the app nationwide.

In a statement to The Hill earlier this month, based on Hawley and Buck’s bill, she said TikTok’s policy “clearly states [that] we collect ‘keystroke patterns or rhythms.’ This is not the same as collecting the content of keystrokes.”

That data is used to help TikTok detect spam and bots, and to assist with “debugging, troubleshooting, and monitoring for proper performance,” she said.

“We understand that there are concerns about TikTok. That is [why] we have been working with [The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] CFIUS for over two years on a plan to address those concerns in the U.S.,” Oberwetter said in an email.

Hawley successfully made a push to get a ban on TikTok on government devices added to a government funding package at the end of last year. It was later signed into law by Biden.

The efforts to pass an overarching ban on the app, though, faces a tougher battle.

—Updated at 7:55 p.m.

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