Key Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate warned that tweaked language in a new Commerce Department rule could lay the groundwork for TikTok’s proposal to store U.S. users’ data in the country.
Two leading China hawks in Congress warned that the Biden administration is preparing to sign off on an agreement that would allow TikTok to continue operating in the United States, despite concerns about the popular video app’s reported ties to the Chinese government and Beijing’s potential access to the data of users.
In a June 23 letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. — who chairs the House Select Committee on China — and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. — who serves as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee — said a final rule issued by the department earlier this month “has renewed our concerns” that the Biden administration is preparing to accept TikTok’s proposal for managing U.S. users’ data.
The intelligence community, White House officials and lawmakers have all voiced concerns that TikTok users’ personal information— including browsing histories, locations and biometric data — could be shared with Beijing.
TikTok has been negotiating with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States for several years to address national security concerns largely stemming from its ownership by China-based parent company ByteDance. To allay the worries of officials and lawmakers, TikTok has proposed a plan to regulators — known as Project Texas — that would enable the app to store U.S. users’ information on domestic servers overseen by Oracle.
Gallagher and Rubio’s letter took issue with the wording of Commerce's new supply chain security rule, which outlined criteria for the department to consider when reviewing whether “connected software applications present undue or unacceptable risk.”
The lawmakers said the final rule watered down previously proposed language for reducing identified risks from “addressed” to “mitigated,” which they warned could enable TikTok to reach a compromise with the Biden administration to continue operating across the country.
Calling Project Texas “the most famous example of an attempted ‘mitigation’ agreement,” the lawmakers underscored their concerns that “TikTok cannot safely operate in the U.S. while controlled by a foreign adversary.
“The national-security threat posed by TikTok cannot be mitigated, and we urge you to abandon any course of action that stops short of fully addressing that threat,” Gallagher and Rubio wrote.
The two Republicans asked Commerce to provide them with documents related to its updated regulations by June 30, including discussions between department officials and TikTok, other federal agencies and third-party firms regarding “legal authorities to impose restrictions on TikTok.”