Update: Sen. Paul blocked the bill on Tuesday night (watch his floor speech here)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) plans to block a bill introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) that would ban the popular video-sharing app TikTok, The Hill reported Wednesday.
Hawley’s bill, the No TikTok on United States Devices Act, would prohibit the app from being downloaded in the US and ban commercial activity with TikTok’s parent company, the China-based ByteDance.
The legislation is much narrower than the RESTRICT Act that was introduced in the Senate and has received 21 bipartisan cosponsors. The RESTRICT Act would give the Commerce Secretary sweeping powers to crack down on any transactions between US persons and so-called “foreign adversaries” relating to information and communication technology.
Hawley was hoping to pass his legislation by unanimous consent, but Paul has broken with the rest of the GOP and came out against banning TikTok, saying it would emulate China’s internet censorship. “If you don’t like TikTok or Facebook or YouTube, don’t use them. But don’t think any interpretation of the Constitution gives you the right to ban them,” Paul wrote in an op-ed for the Courier Journal.
The allegation is that since TikTok is Chinese-owned, it’s obligated to share user data with the Chinese government. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew denied the allegations when he was grilled by Congress last week and said user data is “American data stored on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel.”
Addressing the data claims, Paul said: “To those who are worried that the Chinese government might somehow now have access to millions of American teenagers’ information, realize that all social media sucks up personal data that people voluntarily provide.”
Paul also pointed out that TikTok is cooperating with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to “make sure all data on Americans is protected from any Chinese government snooping.” He also said TikTok has agreed to “house all the data on Oracle’s Cloud with access to US government oversight.”
The Kentucky senator pledged to uphold the Bill of Rights and said any attempt at a congressional ban would likely be overturned by the Supreme Court. “I hope saner minds will reflect on which is more dangerous: videos of teenagers dancing or the precedent of the US government banning speech. For me, it’s an easy answer, I will defend the Bill of Rights against all comers, even, if need be, from members of my own party,” he concluded.