Resistance to TikTok ban growing in D.C.
Lawmakers are forging ahead with calls for aggressive restrictions
A growing number of civil liberties and digital rights groups are speaking out against calls to ban TikTok from the United States, mounting fresh resistance to those surging efforts by public officials.
Advocates argue the proposed TikTok crackdowns would violate users’ rights to express themselves online and distract from broader debates about data privacy.
The burgeoning movement stands in sharp contrast to much of the debate in Washington, where critics have pushed for a ban over claims TikTok poses grave security risks due to its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance.
Congress took its biggest step yet toward that goal on Wednesday, with a House panel advancing a bill to make it easier for President Biden to ban the app nationwide.
Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee argued the measure would protect Americans from potential surveillance at the hands of the Chinese government.
TikTok has testified that it has never and would never share U.S. user data with China. The assurances seemingly have not done much to allay fears on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are forging ahead with calls for aggressive restrictions against the popular video-sharing platform.
Now those efforts are running into new opposition from advocates who argue calls for a ban are misguided at best and unconstitutional at worst. Here’s where they stand:
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched an online petition calling lawmakers to drop their proposals to ban TikTok, saying it “would violate the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans who use the app to express themselves daily.”
A number of prominent civil liberties and digital rights advocates told The Technology 202 that they share the ACLU’s concerns that a ban would infringe on users’ free speech rights.
“A ban on TikTok . . . would be like banning a newspaper or TV channel, but worse,” Ramya Krishnan, a staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute, told me.
Krishnan added, “It would shut down a channel of communication that tens of millions of Americans use to share information and ideas every day.”
A number of groups previously spoke out when former president Donald Trump sought to ban TikTok, WeChat and other apps linked to China from the United States. Those efforts were repeatedly struck down in court, with judges voicing concern about their First Amendment implications.
On Wednesday, digital rights group Fight for the Future launched a separate #DontBanTikTok campaign online. “Yes, it’s worrying that the Chinese government could access the data that TikTok collects,” the group’s petition reads. “But TikTok’s just one head of the hydra.”
The group said it’s calling on lawmakers to “get serious” instead in their talks around data privacy legislation and other guardrails for the tech industry.
“We don’t need more hyperventilating about TikTok: we need strong privacy and transparency laws, and antitrust action to break up the companies getting rich off their data empires,” the group wrote.
Willmary Escoto, U.S. policy analyst at digital rights group Access Now, echoed the sentiment. “If Congress wants to protect human rights online, it should put its energy behind creating and adopting a comprehensive federal data protection package,” Escoto wrote in an email.