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Congressional hearing eyes TikTok ban, data security protections

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(The Center Square) – Is it the ultimate TikTok challenge?

A congressional hearing is scheduled Thursday to consider legislation that could ban the popular online video hosting platform in the United States, plus take other steps to protect Americans’ online data.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that will conduct the hearing, titled, “Legislation to Protect American Data and National Security from Foreign Adversaries.”

“At our hearing last year with the CEO of TikTok, we saw a company that was repeatedly caught lying about its relationship with ByteDance and the Chinese Communist Party,” Rodgers said in a news release Tuesday. “It confirmed our worst fears – that applications controlled by foreign adversaries, like TikTok, are exploiting and weaponizing American’s data and pose a clear national security threat to the United States.”

The Spokane congresswoman, who represents eastern Washington’s 5th District, said she looks forward to the upcoming hearing “to discuss bipartisan legislation that takes decisive action to protect Americans and prevent foreign adversaries, such as China, from targeting, surveilling, and manipulating the American people through online applications like TikTok.”

Thursday’s session is planned at 10 a.m. Eastern time and will be live-streamed at energycommerce.house.gov. Committee members will consider two proposed bills.

H.R. 7521, “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” was introduced Tuesday by the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.

The other measure, H.R. 7520, “Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Adversaries Act,” was introduced by Rodgers and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Data brokers are harvesting people’s sensitive data, selling or sharing it without their knowledge, and failing to keep it secure,” said Rodgers, noting the proposed legislation would limit how people’s sensitive information is shared abroad, particularly by “foreign adversaries who would use it for nefarious purposes.”

An executive session by committee members is expected in conjunction with Thursday’s hearing. Afterward, Rodgers will lead a “markup” of the two bills – a session where members study viewpoints in detail, consider amendments, and decide whether to advance the legislation to the full House for a vote. The markup will also be open to the public and streamed online.

Owned by Chinese-based ByteDance, TikTok is an online application that has gained global popularity by posting short, user-submitted videos. The use and acceptance of TikTok has been widely debated in the U.S. over concerns of misinformation, data privacy violations, addiction by younger users, and its ability to spur reckless, sometimes fatal behaviors.

During a March 23, 2023 congressional hearing, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified that the platform is not manipulated by any government and that it does not alter content at the request of Chinese authorities.

At the time, Rodgers contended that TikTok is a weapon for the Chinese Communist Party to spy on and manipulate its users, including millions of Americans. Afterward, a TikTok spokesperson said the hearing featured political grandstanding by the committee and posed implications affecting users’ First Amendment rights.

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