The arguments given for the banning or the defense of Tik Tok, a company whose data collection is at the disposal of the CCP, abound.
Others insist that the national security threat to the U.S. is too great because of the business’ ties to the CCP, but also because of China’s worldview, which makes it good at pretending to play by the rules of an open, democratic society, taking advantage of all its perks, while really following its own goals of global dominance.
A recent Heritage Foundation report titled “TikTok Generation: A CCP Official in Every Pocket” underlines the dangers it poses to national as well as individual security.
“Concerns over data security do not scratch the surface of TikTok’s ability to manipulate the information environment. ByteDance [parent company] and TikTok have already pushed pro-CCP narratives to the U.S. public, censored content of which the party-state disapproves, and gathered the necessary information to conduct tailored influence campaigns. In two years, the percentage of adults who get their news from TikTok on a regular basis rose from only 3 percent in 2020 to 10 percent of American adults in 2022—roughly tripling this audience.”
The report further notes:
“Americans should be concerned about the integration of TikTok data with China’s growing trove of stolen datasets from hacks conducted at least as far back as 2014. Seemingly disparate datasets, once integrated, can help foreign adversaries to create profiles of American citizens that are ripe for blackmail, espionage, and more.”
Chillingly, it seems that “[t]he CCP could add TikTok and other “open-source” data to cross-reference data from the Chinese hack of the Office of Personnel Management detected in 2014, which exposed the Social Security numbers, addresses, and family contacts of thousands of U.S. government employees, among other sensitive information.”
How might China use its gathered information in the future? With such personalized and intimate data at its fingertips (and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic experiment) it is not difficult to imagine surgically accurate ways in which this knowledge might be weaponized.
The report finally offers its main recommendation: ban Tik Tok and make sure any such threats do not come up again.
Thus, on the one hand, officials could stake the safety of U.S. citizens and the nation itself on the hope that the CCP’s spying is uncalculated, and there is no long term plan to use the data collected against users.
On the other hand, Tik Tok could be banned.
However, might that set a potentially harmful First Amendment infringement precedent? Or might it depend on certain variables (such as, firstly, if Tik Tok is in fact what it claims to be or if it is something else entirely)?
Certainly a lot would depend on whether or not the government will attempt to protect its citizens rather than expand its powers using another “crisis” as pretext.
And therein lies the problem.
A recent segment by Tucker Carlson pointed out that the Restrict Act, the current legislative attempt to ban the app, opens the door for internet restrictions and arresting of American citizens for reasons open to the interpretation of those in power.
Ambiguity in language is a big problem for legislation. For instance, the bill looks to: “review and prohibit certain transactions between persons in the United States and foreign adversaries, and for other purposes. [who decides who is the foreign adversary?]”.
As well, the bill states: “[t]he term ‘transaction’ means any acquisition, importation, transfer, installation, dealing in, or use of any information and communications technology product or service, including ongoing activities such as managed services, data transmission, software updates, repairs, or the provision of data hosting services, or a class of such transactions.” This is a very broad description. Moreover, it seems the executive branch is the one that gets to make the decisions on these definitions, without the input of Congress.
As Tucker notes: “So, if the Biden Administration decides that you’re doing this, then the Secretary of Commerce can enforce ‘any mitigation measure to address any risk arising from any covered transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.’[…] and the mitigation measures include but are not limited to throwing American citizens in prison for 20 years. Think about that for a minute [Carlson’s emphasis].”
Yes, Tik Tok is dangerous in light of the evidence presented by the Heritage report. No, the way to deal with it is not to have government give itself more authority to the detriment of its own people, but rather to have the state truly work in the interest of the public and come up with a way to solve the matter which does not chip away at their long term freedoms.
Now, more than ever, we need politicians to remember that there is only so much power they can take for themselves before they no longer have a country left to run, let alone great influence to wield on the world stage.
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