Biden issues ultimatum to TikTok

By Michael Dementjevs, Staff Writer

The Biden administration has demanded that the Chinese owners of the social media app TikTok sell their stakes or face a nationwide ban.

This comes amid security concerns that TikTok’s Chinese-based parent company, ByteDance, is using American user data for espionage on behalf of the Chinese government. The United States and Europe have already moved to ban TikTok on government-issued devices. New Zealand recently banned the video-sharing app on devices that are connected to parliament’s network that will end by the end of March.

The move to ban the app has been heralded as a bipartisan national security effort, though some speculate it could be driven by Republican scrutiny of President Joe Biden’s diplomatic ties with China. 

“Communist China: steals our intellectual property, hurts American manufacturing, supplies our enemies, distracts Americans on TikTok, flies a spy balloon over our county; And what is Joe Biden doing about it? Nothing,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) tweeted. 

More than two years ago, the Trump administration attempted to make the same ultimatum, but the move was halted by federal courts. If the Biden administration follows suit, TikTok owners will likely challenge the legality of the ban again. 

This comes after a two-year investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), which examined whether or not American users’ data had been properly protected. As a response, TikTok officials stated they will invest $1.5 billion on the plan Project Texas to restore American confidence in TikTok’s operations.

CFIUS was, at first, satisfied with the cybersecurity measures TikTok enacted but have since rejected Project Texas and are demanding that the Chinese-parent company ByteDance sell the app to an American company. This was met with resistance by the company. 

“The best way to address concerns about national security is with transparency, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems,” TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter said. She added that the demand from the CFIUS for ByteDance to sell the TikTok would not solve U.S. cyber and national security concerns.

The bipartisan Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act, or the RESTRICT Act, was unveiled in early March and would give Biden the authority to ban TikTok if passed by Congress.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to appear before the House Energy and Commerce committee for testimony on Thursday regarding the company’s potential role in data sharing.