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House committee approves data security, TikTok divestment bills

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Two bills aimed at protecting the online data of Americans and to possibly ban the popular TikTok video app in the United States both gained bipartisan approval from a congressional committee Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said foreign-owned applications can be used by adversaries to “weaponize platforms like TikTok to manipulate the American people.”

TikTok officials have said that the company’s owner, China-based ByteDance, is not influenced by the Chinese government and that international investors comprise the majority of its ownership.

Thursday morning, the company reportedly sent pop-up messages to its users urging them to contact their elected representatives in Washington, D.C. about a possible “TikTok shutdown.” Congressional offices were subsequently inundated with calls voicing opposition to the proposed legislation.

Rodgers said that is indicative of how the company “used its influence and power to force users to contact their representatives if they wanted to continue using TikTok.”

Some argue that’s an expression of free speech and democratic activism. But Rodgers contended it was “just a small taste” of how the Chinese Communist Party “weaponizes applications it controls to manipulate tens of millions of people to further its agenda.”

“These applications present a clear national security threat to the United States and necessitate the decisive action we will take today,” she said in a press release.

The committee’s bipartisan membership unanimously approved H.R. 7521, the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” and H.R. 7520, the “Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Adversaries Act of 2024.”

Rodgers said both Speaker Mike Johnson, R-LA, and the Biden administration have signaled support for H.R. 7521, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., chair of the House China Select Committee.

As proposed, the measure would specifically require ByteDance to divest TikTok and other applications it controls within 180 days of enactment, or the apps would be prohibited in the U.S.

The bill would also create “a narrow process” that allows the White House and executive branch agencies to prohibit access to any application owned by a “foreign adversary if it poses a threat to national security.” Foreign adversaries are defined as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

Rodgers insisted the legislature is not “a blank check for the Biden administration, or future administration, to ban whatever apps they want.” Rather, there would have to be agreement by executive branch agencies and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States that an adversary-controlled app poses a national security threat.

As of last June, federal employees and employees in about three dozen states were largely prohibited from using TikTok on government devices. Montana became the first state to pass a law banning the app on all personal devices beginning this year, but a federal judge in November put the ban on hold.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, also introduced H.R. 7520, which seeks to limit how data brokers share Americans’ sensitive information abroad.

Rodgers said data brokers collect “a stunning amount of information” on U.S. citizens, from health conditions to travel plans, then sell the data to the highest bidders, including nations like China. The legislation, she said, would establish a data privacy standard to crack down on abuses.

Rodgers expressed appreciation for Pallone, Gallagher and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., ranking member of the China Select Committee, for their efforts and support.