Possible U.S. National TikTok Ban Makes No Sense

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The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in March that could lead to the app TikTok, whose parent company is based in China, being banned nationwide. The bill, H.R. 7521, is officially known as the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act.” To be perfectly blunt, I think it would be stupid for the Congress to enact this legislation because it would do more harm than good for U.S. people.

The bill would require TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to sell the app or face a ban in the United States, according to NPR. This is not the first attempt to ban TikTok in the U.S. Lawmakers have had many issues with the app over the years since its explosive rise in popularity in the late 2010s. In 2020, former President Donald Trump even tried and failed to ban the app through an executive order, according to the New York Times. So I have to ask, why has the U.S. Government and its lawmakers been so intent on banning the app? And the simple answer is that ByteDance is based in Beijing. And strikingly, more than a third of Americans view China as an “enemy,” according to Time Magazine

As tensions between the two biggest economies in the world have been increasing in the last few decades, according to CNN, so, too, has American scrutiny of Chinese companies. According to AP News, American intelligence and defense agencies fear that the platform will expose Americans to data security breaches and the Chinese Communist Party’s influence. 

According to the AP, prior to the House voting on the bill, national security and intelligence agencies of the Biden administration conducted a classified briefing for lawmakers. However, AP reported that there is no public evidence that TikTok and ByteDance are a security threat to the U.S., or that ByteDance is influenced by the Chinese officials within the CCP. In fact, TikTok is not even available in its country of origin, CNN reports. 

I think this bill and potential ban is nonsensical, as it is predicated on TikTok being a national security threat to the U.S. However, the evidence of this seems slim. Yes, there was a report that the CCP might have viewed data from “pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong in 2018,” according to CNN, but that instance “appears to be a first.” I think most of the concerns amount to hysteria — especially the concerns of U.S. elected officials. I would argue that the ban could perhaps even be unconstitutional, as blocking one of the most popular social media platforms in the country could challenge Americans’ First Amendment rights to self-expression and free speech. 

In an essay last year for the New York Times, lawyer Jameel Jaffer wrote that “there’s really no question that government action whose effect would be to bar Americans from using a foreign communications platform would implicate the First Amendment.” Jaffer’s argument highlights real concern among some in the legal profession that the potential TikTok ban is unconstitutional.

It seems ironic that government officials are loudly suggesting that China is spying on U.S. citizens. I wonder if perhaps, they are trying to divert attention from their own intelligence gathering operations. Vox news released an article last year titled “The US government is buying your data to spy on you,” which references a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence outlining how data brokers who “track almost everything people do on their phones and computers” are selling this data to intelligence agencies. The hypocrisy of the U.S. government is obvious. Government officials and agencies are attacking China for its hypothetical abuse of U.S. citizens’ data, without acknowledging The United States’s own abuse.  

Government agencies effectively spying on Americans through data collection is well documented, which I feel is far more insidious than most Americans realize. If someone attended, say, a Black Lives Matter protest, a data company could theoretically have tracked that person and sold the information to the government. If individuals born females use an app to track their periods, even this data could — and has been — shared with third-parties, according to Vox. I am much more concerned with those in this country collecting my personal data than with those in a country more than 7,000 miles away.

For all the preaching about Americans’ privacy and security, the U.S. government seems to care little about either. Perhaps the United States has more in common with China than these officials acknowledge, and the potential ban is simply an effort of distraction.

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