Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky argued against banning TikTok nationwide on Wednesday as the Chinese-owned app faces bipartisan scrutiny at both the state and federal level.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., one of the most vocal critics of the app leading the charge to ban it, introduced the No TikTok on United States Devices Act in January. Hawley asked for unanimous consent on his bill on Wednesday evening.
Paul, who opposed the TikTok ban in a Louisville Courier Journal op-ed published Wednesday morning, spoke out about the legislation on the Senate floor later that day.
“There are two main reasons why we might not want to do this. The one would be the First Amendment to the Constitution. Speech is protected whether you like it or not,” Paul said. “The second reason… is that the Constitution actually prohibits bills of attainder. You’re not allowed to have a specific bill against a person or a company. So, this fails on two egregious points, pretty obvious points, and I think we ought to think about that.”
“I think we should be wary of those who peddle fear. I think we should be wary of those who use fear to coax Americans to relinquish our liberties, to regulate and limit our First Amendment rights. Every accusation of data-gathering that’s been attributed to TikTok could also be attributed to domestic Big Tech companies,” Paul said. “In fact, one of the bills they’re looking at doing is broad enough that the president will be given the power to designate whatever country he sees fit to be an adversary and whatever company underneath that definition. It would basically be a limitless authority for the president to ban speech.”
Paul, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also pointed out that TikTok is banned in China.
“Do we want to follow China’s lead in banning speech? We should not let fear of communism to cause us to ignore our First Amendment protections of speech. This legislation violates not only the First Amendment of those who own TikTok, many of whom are actually Americans, not Chinese, but it also violates the First Amendment rights of the millions of young Americans who use this social media app,” Paul said. “I ask the American people, ‘do you want Joe Biden to be your censor?’”
“Do you want to give unlimited power to any president regardless of party to decide who is our adversary and which countries and then which countries—there’s not even a list of what percentage. What if somebody—what if the Chinese own 1% of a company, or 10% of a company?” Paul asked. “One of the bills before us would allow the Department of Commerce to decide—there’s five countries they list that are adversaries, these are big countries that have a lot of interaction with our country already—decide which country in addition to the five.”
The Department of Commerce can designate a country as an adversary, but then they can designate a company. But there’s no specifics.
Do the new people that are designated to be an adversary have to own 100% of the company, 50% of the company, 1% of the company?
This is a crazy gift of power to one person, and I don’t care which party they’re in. It’s a huge mistake.
More than 30 states, led by Democratic and Republican governors alike, have taken action to ban the app on some or all state-issued devices and networks, The Daily Signal previously reported.
Hawley had made more arguments against TikTok on the Senate floor Wednesday before Paul’s remarks.
“Here’s one thing that has changed since just December, a few months ago, when we banned TikTok on federal government devices. TikTok has gone into full damage control mode, and as Big Tech companies do all the time, they’ve hired a fleet of lobbyists and have spent untold amounts of cash,” Hawley said.
“I just say this: that we have the opportunity today to send a message to this corporate interest that the United States Senate is not for sale, that we cannot be bought, that we cannot be purchased, we cannot be influenced by their lobbying campaign, by their corporate money,” the Missouri senator added. “That we will instead side with the American people. We’ll tell the truth about what this app is. We’ll do our jobs and protect Americans.”
Now, some say that we ought to have a broader bill that would not actually ban TikTok, but would give new authority to the executive branch and leave it open. I don’t agree with that. My view is we should act decisively to ban TikTok directly. We shouldn’t give new open-ended authority to federal bureaucrats.
We should target this threat specifically. That’s what this bill does that we have before us today. It goes right at the problem. It bans TikTok in this country. It protects the American people, and it sends the message to Communist China that you cannot buy us.
Shou Zi Chew, TikTok’s chief executive officer, appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday for a hearing titled “TikTok: How Congress Can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms.”
Chew made four commitments to the committee and to the app’s users during his testimony.
“No. 1, we will keep safety, particularly for teenagers, as a top priority for us. No. 2, we will firewall protected U.S. data from unwanted foreign access,” Chew said in his opening statement. “No. 3, TikTok will remain a place for free expression and will not be manipulated by any government.”
“And fourth, we will be transparent, and we will give access to third-party independent monitors to remain accountable for our commitments,” he added.
Chew also noted that ByteDance, which is TikTok’s parent company, “is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government.”
Kara Frederick, director of the Tech Policy Center at The Heritage Foundation, countered this claim in a recent report titled “TikTok Generation: A CCP Official in Every Pocket.” (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
“TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is subject to the People’s Republic of China’s laws and policies that permit the CCP’s access to the data ByteDance collects,” Frederick wrote. “One such policy is China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, which compels private entities and individuals to cooperate with ‘state intelligence work.’”
“Specifically, Article 7 of this law declares that ‘any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work according to the law.’”
TikTok did not immediately respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.
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