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Ban on TikTok an Abuse of State Power

Source: Science and Technology Daily | 2023-03-16 09:38:29 | Author: GONG Qian

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an international non-profit digital rights group based in the U.S., believes that a ban on TikTok is in violation of Americans’First Amendment rights. (PHOTO: SCREENSHOT)

By GONG Qian

"How unsure of itself can the world's top superpower be to fear a young people's favorite app like that?" said Mao Ning, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, when asked about decision by the White House on February 27 that gave government agencies 30 days to delete TikTok, a short-video social media App, from all federal devices.

Shortly after that, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) voted on March 1 to approve the measure to grant President Joe Biden new power to ban TikTok, Reuters reported. Recently, Europe and Canada also banned TikTok on staff phones and government devices.

This brings TikTok, a widely popular App whose parent company ByteDance is based in China, into the spotlight again. TikTok is used by more than 100 million monthly active users in the U.S. alone, and its ability to create instant viral hits has put it at the forefront of internet culture, said National Public Radio (NPR).

These Western governments and regulators claimed that the ban on TikTok is due to concern over security and privacy. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the HFAC, said TikTok is being used by China to "manipulate and monitor its users, while it gobbles up Americans' data to be used for their malign activities."

The truth is that no evidence has been presented to support these allegations. Mona Fortier, the President of Canada's Treasury Board, who issued a statement to ban TikTok on February 27, also said that no evidence at this point showed that government information has been compromised. The ban is a precautionary measure to keep national secrets secure.

It is unfair for TikTok to pay the price for theoretical concerns based on fundamental misconceptions, while the company has been taking actions to address those concerns.

For example, it reached an agreement with Oracle Bone Inscriptions, an American technology company, to store the information of its American users without ByteDance having access to it in June 2022. TikTok currently stores European user data in the U.S. and Singapore.

But not all are on board with such a ban. Fight for the Future, a digital rights group, launched a campaign opposing U.S. lawmakers' proposal to ban TikTok. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are also strongly opposed, while Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at ACLU, said it is in violation of Americans' First Amendment rights and urged legislators to vote no on this "vague, overbroad, and unconstitutional bill."

If the Western governments are really so concerned about cybersecurity, then they should ban all social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, which also "collect extreme levels of information about users," said Bruce Schneier, a security technologist and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, along with Barath Raghavan, a professor of computer science at University of Southern California, in an essay for the Foreign Policy.

"If we want to address the real problem, we need to enact serious privacy laws, not security theater, to stop our data from being collected, analyzed, and sold-by anyone," the two authors said.

Now, TikTok has unveiled a new plan, known as Project Clover, to protect user information across Europe. According to the plan, user data will be stored on servers in Ireland and Norway at an annual cost of 1.1 billion USD. All data transmission outside Europe will be monitored by a third-party European IT company.

"Its back against the wall, TikTok is fighting hard to prove it is no national-security threat," said BBC.

If this can't earn trust and ease worries from Western governments, to some extent, then it has to say that they don't really care about what TikTok has done, but just over-stretch the concept of national security and abusing state power to suppress foreign companies, as China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said.

Editor: 龚茜

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