Republican Senator Rand Paul on Wednesday blocked a bid to fast-track a ban of popular Chinese-owned social media app TikTok in the United States.
“I think we should beware of those who use fear to coax Americans to relinquish our liberties,” Paul said on the US Senate floor. “Every accusation of data gathering that has been attributed to TikTok could also be attributed to domestic big tech companies.
“If Republicans want to continuously lose elections for a generation they should pass this bill to ban TikTok – a social media app used by 150 million people, primarily young Americans,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “Do we really want to emulate Chinese speech bans?… We’re going to be just like China and ban speech we’re afraid of?”
Rand made his comments in response to Republican Senator Josh Hawley seeking unanimous consent for a TikTok ban bill. “It protects the American people and it sends a message to Communist China that you cannot buy us,” Hawley said, adding the app is spying on Americans.
A small but growing number of Democrats and Republicans have raised concerns, citing free speech and other issues and have objected to legislation targeting TikTok as overly broad.
Last week, three Democrats in the House of Representatives opposed a TikTok ban, as do free speech groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.
Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also opposed a TikTok ban, calling it “unprecedented”, adding that Congress has not gotten classified TikTok briefings. “It just doesn’t feel right to me,” she said in a TikTok video.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said last week he expects the house will take up a bill to address TikTok but the timing is unclear. It is also not clear what a final bill to address TikTok might look like.
That followed TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew’s over five hours of testimony before Congress, in which he faced tough questions about national security and privacy concerns over the ByteDance-owned app.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration also demanded TikTok’s Chinese owners divest their stakes or face a US ban.
TikTok says it has spent more than $1.5 billion on rigorous data security efforts and rejects spying allegations.
Many Democrats argue Congress should pass comprehensive privacy legislation covering all social media sites, not just TikTok.
Senators Mark Warner, a Democrat, and John Thune, a Republican, have proposed the RESTRICT Act, which now has 22 Senate co-sponsors, to give the Commerce Department power to impose restrictions up to and including banning TikTok and other technologies that pose national security risks. It would apply to foreign technologies from China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba.
Paul said the bill “would basically be a limitless authority for the president to ban speech.”
A growing number of conservatives oppose the measure. Former Republican Representative Justin Amash said the “RESTRICT Act isn’t about banning TikTok; it’s about controlling you. It gives broad powers to the executive branch, with few checks, and will be abused in every way you can imagine.”
A spokesperson for Warner said: “To be extremely clear, this legislation is aimed squarely at companies like Kaspersky, Huawei and TikTok that create systemic risks to the United States’ national security – not at individual users.”
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena