The Biden administration is considering pushing Congress to give it more legal powers to deal with TikTok and other technologies that could expose sensitive data to China, five people familiar with the matter said, as it faces mounting pressure to address security concerns about China — owned video application.
White House officials are weighing whether to support legislation in progress That would give the government more power to police apps and services that could pose a risk to the data security of Americans or be used in foreign influence campaigns, two of the people said. This could be used against TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.
The administration has provided feedback on a draft bill that would provide an alternative to legislation to ban the app outright, two of the people said. Mr. Warner said on Fox News Sunday that he plans to introduce the bill this week with Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican. If the government chooses to back Mr. Warner’s bill or other legislation, it’s unclear how the government will support it.
The growing focus on Congress is a major shift in the White House’s strategy for responding to concerns about TikTok. Since President Biden took office, his administration has privately negotiated a deal that would allow TikTok to operate in the United States while alleviating national security concerns. Critics say the app could be forced under Chinese law to hand over the personal data it collects on millions of Americans to Chinese authorities. They worry that Beijing may use TikTok to deliver political messages to people’s smartphone screens.
But talks between TikTok and a group of federal agencies known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States did not result in an agreement. TikTok CEO Shouzi Zhou is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23.
By more aggressively calling on Congress to act, the White House could divert attention from the negotiations between TikTok and the CFIUS committee. If the legislation is passed, the new legal powers would give the government a bigger role in those negotiations.
A White House spokesman declined to comment.
“The Biden administration doesn’t need additional authority from Congress to address national security concerns about TikTok: it can approve the deal negotiated with CFIUS,” said TikTok spokesman Brooke Oberwetter.
Ms Oberwetter said in August the company considered a draft agreement it had sent to the government to be “final, save for some legal provisions that are not material to national security”. But TikTok said it has heard little from the government since then. Some in the government were concerned at the time that the agreement was not strict enough.
TikTok has become a battleground in a technological cold war between Washington and Beijing. In recent years, U.S. officials have taken steps to prevent Chinese technology and telecommunications companies from gaining access to U.S. suppliers and customers. They also authorized $52 billion for domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research to reduce America’s reliance on computer chips made in Asia. China has long blocked many U.S. online services.
Discussions among top administration officials about what to do with TikTok have intensified in recent months, two people familiar with the matter said. At least some of the entities involved in reviewing the deal with CFIUS, including Justice Department and White House officials, want to get tough on the app, one of the people said. They spoke anonymously because the conversation is private.
“By law and practice, CFIUS does not comment publicly on transactions that it may or may not be reviewing,” said a spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees the panel’s operations. A Justice Department spokesman also declined to comment.
But without changes to the law, the government’s options may be limited. In 2020, President Donald J. Trump threatened to ban TikTok from Apple and Google’s app stores unless ByteDance sold the app to U.S. buyers. The court later said the government had no legal right to threaten an injunction, effectively undermining its leverage to force a sale.
Since then, TikTok’s influence has continued to expand, with more than 1 billion users worldwide in 2021.
Last year, Congress banned the app from devices used by the federal government. States including Virginia and South Carolina have announced similar bans.A group of lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, both Republicans, also have proposed legislation This would ban TikTok in the US. The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill last week giving the president more power over the app.
Mr Warner said legislation was needed to regulate all apps and services that threatened US national security, not just TikTok. His bill is likely to give the Commerce Department the ability to review those services, including for security risks with data belonging to Americans, as Mr. Biden directed the agency in a 2021 executive order, according to a person familiar with the draft. did. The bill would also enable the agency to study how a service could be used for foreign influence operations.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo last week said the administration was interested in the legislation, noting the work of Mr. Warner and Mr. Rubio on the TikTok issue Interviewed by Bloomberg. She said the government was “working with them”.
White House press aides were asked questions about the app last week, and their responses also pointed to Congress. “We’re looking at what else we can do, including working with Congress,” White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton said Tuesday. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre -Pierre), noted Mr. Biden’s support for limiting data collection by big tech companies.
“And — and, look, we’re going to go ahead — appeal to Congress again,” she said.
Kirsten Noyce contributed research.