Biden Administration Threatens to Ban TikTok

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By Brian Fung | CNN

The Biden administration has threatened to ban TikTok from the United States unless the app’s Chinese owners agree to split its stake in the social media platform, TikTok acknowledged late on Wednesday.

The apparent ultimatum from a multi-agency US panel known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) marks a potential turning point in long-running negotiations between federal officials concerned about TikTok’s ties to China and a Extremely popular social media with over 100 million US users.

The recent divestment order was first reported on Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal; TikTok later confirmed to CNN that CFIUS had contacted the company, adding that it did not dispute the Journal’s report. But TikTok declined to discuss details of the US government’s request, including details about the timing.

“If protecting national security is the goal, divestment does not solve the problem,” Maureen Shanahan, a spokeswoman for TikTok, said in a statement. “An ownership change would not impose new restrictions on data flows or access. The best way to address national security concerns is with transparent, US-based protection of US users’ data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, verification, and verification, which we are already implementing.”

TikTok has been negotiating for more than two years with CFIUS — a group formed by the Departments of the Treasury, Justice, Homeland Security, Defense and Commerce, among others — an agreement that could allow the app to continue operating in the North American market in the face of concerns of security and privacy. US officials have raised fears that the Chinese government could use its national security laws to pressure TikTok or its Chinese parent company ByteDance to hand over the personal information of US TikTok users, which could benefit Chinese intelligence activities or influence campaigns.

The Treasury Department, which chairs CFIUS, declined to comment.

Negotiations with TikTok lingered without resolution, prompting criticism of the Biden administration by some U.S. lawmakers who pushed to ban the app through legislation.

Late last year, Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed legislation blocking TikTok from US government devices, following in the footsteps of several state governments. Since then, the European Union and Canada have also followed suit, reflecting growing distrust among Western governments towards TikTok. But so far, there is no evidence that the Chinese government has actually accessed TikTok user data, and no government has enacted a broader ban targeting TikTok on personal devices.

TikTok has sought to address policymakers’ concerns with voluntary technical and bureaucratic safeguards that it says will help ensure that US users’ data can only be accessed by US employees. Part of that initiative, which the company calls Project Texas, involves storing personal data with US cloud giant Oracle. TikTok launched a similar push in Europe this month, which it calls Project Clover.

That hasn’t stopped American critics of TikTok. Some U.S. lawmakers have moved to expand Biden’s authority to impose a nationwide ban on TikTok beyond restrictions on U.S. government devices and independent of the CFIUS process — a proposal the White House quickly embraced. The heat will likely intensify over the next week as TikTok CEO Shou Chew is set to face questioning before the House Commerce and Energy Committee.

Wednesday’s development suggests that a shift has occurred in CFIUS’s typically opaque dealings, although the exact nature of the move remains unclear, according to Harry Broadman, a former CFIUS official.

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